Rather, I think it is predictably mediocre (in “admin-speak,” it meets expectations), but is a major achievement, given the fierce political headwinds and cynical rope-a-dope the Trump administration continues to play.
But that’s unlikely. In this regard the US vaccination program is a lot like voting for the president, including in the time lag between voting and the tallied, then reported, vote totals. As we learned November 3rd (and 4th and 5th and 6th…), though the votes were “in,” the final tallies were not yet known. So, too, with vaccinations given: more arms have received the Covid-19 vaccine than is reflected in the CDC numbers. Accuracy takes time.
Indeed, voting and vaccination share a second similarity: the experience itself. Or so I thought as I received my shot. As with voting, I was given a time and place for the vaccine. Like voting, there was a (much shorter) line that was divided into smaller portions of waiting — at this desk, then that — as another small but necessary piece of the process was added. Everyone whispered as if in a public library. There were papers to sign and details to agree to. And there were smart, concerned, organized people everywhere.
Then, as with the exciting moment when the voter closes the curtain and picks the candidates, I sat in a quiet room to roll up my sleeve and wait for the shot. Then the ouch. Then the odd, triumphant march outside, post-event, trying to conceal a smile (though masked). And finally, as in November, a tiny jump for joy.
Both voting and vaccination are individual adventures that require repeating millions and millions of times within a population. Then tabulating. Then pushing those tabulations up a chain locally, then to state authorities and agencies and then on to their federal equivalents. Plus, public interest demands frequently updated totals on television, online and clogging your Twitter feed. That’s a lot of moving parts.
Similarly, nostalgic views of previous influenza vaccine programs overlook a critical difference between those campaigns and this one: both Covid vaccines require additional regulatory paperwork because they have been made available under Emergency Use Authorization. Such products are not approved by the US Food and Drug Administration and therefore need additional layers of documentation, scrutiny and caution. This slows down the already laborious process.
Given both the intrinsic difficulties of choreographing a national program ASAP and the clear lack of urgency from the White House, it is safe to assume that a better program simply won’t happen during President Trump’s leadership.
But there is every reason to think that the Biden administration will increase the pace and address all the contingencies efficiently and without politics.
This group immediately will be met with a major challenge. Compared to John or Jane Citizen, vaccinating a health care worker is relatively easy. This population is mostly healthy — after all, they showed up for work. Hospitals know how and where to give vaccines; health care workers themselves routinely explain risks and benefits to patients and so are quick to grasp the issues; help, if needed, is nearby with everyone from a trained allergist to a cardiovascular surgeon.
The rest of the country is not similarly prepared. Which means it is a perfect time for the Biden team to take over. Just as the pandemic has revealed President Trump’s style and priorities, so too will the execution of the Great Covid-19 Vaccine Campaign be the defining first act of the Biden’s presidency. We can all only hope it’s a smash hit.