When it comes to COVID-19 policy, President Joe Biden has clearly opted for a go-slow approach. If we “follow the science,” though, it’s apparent that he’s being too cautious.
In his first prime-time address in office, he addressed the state of the COVID-19 pandemic in America. He expressed hope that, by Independence Day, family and friends could gather once again. But he immediately hedged, adding that this “doesn’t mean large events with lots of people together, but … small groups will be able to get together.”
This is an overly cautious view, especially as the country has averaged more than 2 million doses administered daily since early March; as the recently authorized Johnson & Johnson vaccine ramps up deliveries, this will only accelerate further.
Follow the data. As of this writing, the average daily number of new cases has decreased by 78 percent in just two months’ time. Since Jan. 12, the seven-day average of hospitalizations has declined by almost 64 percent.
January was indeed a deadly month, with a record high of 95,000 deaths, and in February, the country surpassed half a million deaths due to COVID. But deaths have been on a sustained decline since then, decreasing by 59 percent and are expected to continue to track the drop in cases and hospitalizations.
The continuing drop in case numbers, with the sharp decline in hospitalizations, is more than likely indicative of an approaching herd immunity -- that is, the proportion of people in a population who need to be immune to an infection for it to stop spreading. Indeed, Dr. Marty Makary of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, a top expert in the field, believes America could achieve herd immunity as early as next month.
Perhaps with his eye on the end of the pandemic, the president cited the high rates of daily vaccination -- between 1 and 2 million per day -- and that all American adults would be eligible to get a shot in the arm by May 1. He also proudly announced that his administration would soon issue guidance on “what you can and cannot do once fully vaccinated, to lessen the confusion, to keep people safe, and encourage more people to get vaccinated.”
Let us help lessen the confusion: Those who are fully vaccinated -- and therefore given nearly 100 percent protection against death or severe illness and over 90 percent protection against even infection -- should return to their normal daily lives one or two weeks (for the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines respectively) after they receive the full course of the vaccine.
Biden’s unambitious vision would be understandable if he were responding from scratch to the pandemic. For example, Biden said, “When I took office 50 days ago, only 8 percent of Americans after months -- only 8 percent of those over the age of 65 had gotten their first vaccination.”
Of course, when Biden took office, the Pfizer vaccine was authorized for barely more than one month, and the Moderna vaccine for slightly less. Furthermore, these vaccines only exist because of the efforts of the previous administration’s herculean efforts epitomized by “Operation Warp Speed,” one of the most impressive triumphs in the history of public health. It resulted in the development of vaccines in months rather than years.
Even Biden’s announcement of the purchase of 100 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is in following the lead of the Trump administration’s agreement to purchase 100 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine back in July 2020.
In addition, Biden came into office with a vast array of newly authorized drugs, therapeutics, and diagnostics for SARS-CoV-2, as well as a year’s worth of lessons learned in the treatment of COVID-19.
With all of this at President Biden’s disposal, America should be looking forward to the end of the pandemic. Vaccinating all adults by May 1 is a good way to build on gains already made.
The goal should be nothing less than the full reopening of every state or territory in America. Not only would this be better as a matter of leadership, it would also be more prudent in its own right.
The administration’s timid vision is not without its own harm, separate from the real dangers of COVID-19. The economic harm of lockdown measures is readily seen in any downtown area, but less visible is the deteriorating mental health of Americans, particularly in children.
As Biden said, conditions may change that set us back in the fight against COVID-19. Nothing, however, as of yet, not even new variants of the virus, has truly threatened the tremendous progress we have made. The definitive end of the pandemic may be near and perhaps soon, a truly hopeful reality.
Kevin Pham, Robert E. Moffit
Kevin Pham, M.D, is a visiting policy analyst in domestic policy studies, and Robert E. Moffit, Ph.D., is a senior fellow in domestic policy studies, at the Heritage Foundation. -- Ed.
(Tribune Content Agency)