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Trump’s “Plan” to Distribute COVID-19 Vaccines Is a Predictable Clusterf–k

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In the U.S.’s fight against COVID-19, there’s good news and there’s “Forced to sit next to Don Jr. at a dinner party and listen to the intricate details of his workout regimen”–type news, i.e. the kind you never want to hear. On the good-news front, a number of drugmakers have said early data show their vaccines are highly effective in preventing the novel coronavirus. The less-good news: Donald Trump is still president, meaning we’ll probably have to wait at least seven weeks until the federal government has a plan to distribute lifesaving drugs that actually inspires confidence and not sheer dread.

According to Politico, the Trump administration has basically decided to pass the gargantuan, daunting task of getting vaccines to people to individual states, a strategy it used to address the pandemic this spring that led to disastrous results. While state and federal officials agree that the country’s 21 million health care workers should be the first to get doses, “there is no consensus about how to balance the needs of other high-risk groups, including the 53 million adults aged 65 or older, 87 million essential workers and more than 100 million people with medical conditions that increase their vulnerability to the virus.” Trump and company have told governors they have the ultimate say when deciding who gets vaccinated when; it’s also chosen to “allocate scarce early doses based on states’ total populations,” which will ultimately lead to difficult choices in states with a bigger proportion of residents who are at at risk. (The virus has disproportionately affected Black, Latino, and Indigenous communities when it comes to hospitalizations and deaths.) Experts worry that could undermine confidence in the effort to vaccinate the population, the success of which is dependent on persuading a huge number of Americans to get immunized. (As for any hope of achieving herd immunity, approximately 200 million Americans would need to get the vaccine and/or be infected; as of last month, only about half the country said it would get it.)

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“States are going to have to pick and choose who gets the first doses,” Josh Michaud, an associate director for global health policy at Kaiser Family Foundation, told Politico. “It’s very obvious that states are in different places when it comes to planning and identifying who those people are.” Moncef Slaoui, who leads the government’s Operation Warp Speed program, said he doesn‘t “expect the states to make uniform decisions. Some may prefer long-term care facilities or the elderly, while others may prioritize their health care workers. It would be wrong to immunize 18-year-olds first. I hope no one does that. But otherwise it’s shades of gray.”

Eric Toner, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said that the federal government is giving states the autonomy they need to allocate vaccine in ways that meet their residents’ needs…. But that autonomy translates into an uneven rollout among states, that could shake the public’s already fragile confidence in the government’s coronavirus response and possibly even in the vaccines themselves, Michaud said.

The federal government had originally told Illinois officials that the state should plan to receive an initial shipment of about 400,000 doses once the FDA authorized a shot. But in the last few days, federal officials slashed that figure to about 80,000 doses, Ngozi Ezike, the director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said at a press briefing Tuesday.

While most screw-ups from the Trump administration can typically be attributed to incompetence, it says something about the federal government’s current reputation that incompetence is the best explanation for vaccine-distribution planning thus far. As a member of Joe Biden‘s COVID task force told Vanity Fair’s Katherine Eban earlier this month, there’s fear Team Trump purposely hamstrung the transition for weeks to “make timely vaccine distribution all but impossible,” leaving Trump “with the victory of overseeing its successful development, and an incoming President Biden with the failure to distribute it.”

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Meanwhile, the pandemic continues to hit new, terrifying heights thanks in large part to Donald Trump and COVID-19 task force chief Mike Pence’s decision to effectively do nothing to stop it. (Last month, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows literally told CNN, “We’re not going to control the pandemic.”) According to Trump’s own CDC, hospitalization rates are higher now than at any point in the past nine months, with some states pushed to capacity. More than 267,000 people are dead in the U.S. While Trump could still spare people from contracting, spreading, and potentially dying from a miserable disease by urging them to wear masks and avoid family gatherings over the holidays, he obviously would rather Americans suffer than admit Dr. Anthony Fauci and other health experts actually know what they’re talking about. As The New York Times put it:


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