America’s anti-science president came out of hiding last week to take credit for a COVID-19 vaccine that is being developed by private drug companies with little help from the government.
The vaccine work is being done under a Donald Trump effort called Warp Speed, but the only activity those words apply to these days is the explosion of COVID-19 cases the country is currently experiencing while the administration is missing in action.
The latest surge hit home earlier today when the state announced that Nevada County has been bumped two tiers from orange to purple, the most severe. Don’t worry, we have company. Some 41 of the state’s 58 counties now carry that designation.
The country passed the 10 million mark, then the 11 million level of those infected with coronavirus in record time. It took just 10 days to get from nine million cases to 10 million. It took 14 days to record the previous million and 21 days to reach the prior million.
The surge doesn’t figure to recede anytime soon. The seven-day moving average of infections is hitting new records every day, and is now outpacing the 14-day average in every state. When the seven-day average is higher than the 14-day average, it suggests cases are rising.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration has done next to nothing on the coronavirus front for several weeks. His so-called task force has not met for weeks and is currently being fronted by Dr. Scott Atlas, who has no experience in infectious diseases or public health.
Atlas is busying himself claiming face masks are useless and is urging residents of Michigan, for one, to “rise up” against severe anti-infection measures instituted by the governor.
This is what Trump calls a “team player.” For months, members of his administration have condoned nonchalance about the virus, mocking precautions such as wearing a mask as a mark of weakness, and dismissing public health concerns as overwrought. In the closing days of the campaign, Trump called out Laura Ingraham, one of his leading apologists on Fox News, for being “politically correct” because she wore a mask.
People advising the president are telling him that herd immunity is at hand, but wishful thinking isn’t sound policy. Caution has become politically contentious, as if taking a common-sense approach to warding off illness somehow deprives us of our freedom.
In Trump’s view, none of this tops in importance maintaining a healthy economy. The U.S. economy is expected to contract 4.3% this year, slightly better than the 4.4% contraction expected worldwide in 2020, according to the International Monetary Fund.
By contrast, China is expected to grow its GDP by 2%, with Vietnam at 1.6% and other Asian economies like Singapore and Hong Kong slightly up or flat for the year. The healthiest economies in the world today are found largely in Asia.
How did they escape the fate of the rest of the world? They cracked down hard and early on the spread of coronavirus, mandating masks, social distancing, and sanitation, coupled with aggressive efforts to test people and initiate contact tracing.
Trump has missed the opportunity to get the virus under control, so now he’s banking on a vaccine to save the day. That won’t come any time soon—under the most optimistic scenarios, mass inoculations will be available by the third quarter of 2021 at the earliest. The virus won’t just disappear, and we will need to continue to find ways to treat the disease when people get infected.
The vaccine won’t work if we don’t get widespread inoculation, which means 70% or more of Americans will have to take it to achieve herd immunity. Thanks to our active anti-vaccination movement and Trump’s attempt to manipulate the vaccine effort for political gain, there’s a good deal of skepticism about the vaccine.
Several surveys indicate that at least 30% of the population won’t take the vaccine or will wait to see if there’s any side effects they should worry about. “Unfortunately this pandemic and the vaccine development have become politicized,” said Dr. Archana Chatterjee, who sits on a committee advising the U.S. Food and Drug Administration about vaccines.
“What we would usually rely upon, which is you trust the doctors, you trust the scientists and the government processes by which safety and efficacy of vaccines are assured, really have been undermined,” she said.
Trust was undermined by Trump’s push to have a vaccine before election day, which would blunt Joe Biden’s criticism of the administration’s bungled handling of the virus.
The administration went so far as to try to change the FDA’s guidelines for assessing whether a vaccine was ready for the public. Trump’s objection? The guidelines would practically guarantee no vaccine would be approved until after the election. After the election, Trump complained about the medical “deep state” that wanted to see him lose.
Anti-vaxxers couldn’t ask for a better ally than Trump, who has probably done more to erode confidence in medical science than anybody since Andrew Wakefield, the British doctor who helped to invigorate the anti-vaxx movement by claiming the MMR vaccine leads to brain damage and autism.
At the very least, our president is criminally negligent.