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Reed ’21: Biden’s uninspiring vaccine goal

Following his inauguration last week, President Joe Biden released his “National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness.” Part of the president’s plan calls for 100 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to be administered within his first 100 days in office. 100 days, 100 million shots. It certainly has a nice ring to it. But far from the moonshot it needs to be, the President’s goal is akin to shooting fish in a barrel. 

 The number of vaccines being administered each day has, unsurprisingly, skyrocketed in the month since the FDA issued an emergency use authorization for the first COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer — followed not long after by Moderna’s. In the first days of the vaccine rollout, the United States averaged under 200,000 doses administered per day. Fast forward one month, and we’re doing more than five-times that. In fact, the seven-day rolling average of the number of doses administered has been over 1 million every day since Jan. 23. 

What disappoints most is that this strategy is merely keeping pace despite there being every reason to believe that we will have the ability, and hopefully the motivation, to accelerate the vaccination rate as we build and streamline infrastructure. Not to mention that we are very likely to have more than just the current Pfizer-Moderna duo in our vaccine arsenal by the end of next month. 

Barring some unforeseen cataclysm, administering 100 million doses by the president’s deadline is a sure thing. So, why are we acting like this is what we ought to be striving for? If, in 100 days’ time, we’ve only administered enough vaccines to maintain the current rate of vaccination, should we really be cracking open the champagne?

I am not quite sure where or why the 100 million goal was set. It’s possible then-President-elect Biden was less optimistic about the vaccine rollout when he decided on the number. Or it’s also possible that someone just liked the sound of “100 million in 100 days”. But, in this, the new administration has made the rare mistake — at least in Washington D.C. — of not being ambitious enough. 

To be sure, the president has made some good moves on vaccines so far. He has pledged to use the Federal Emergency Management Agency to construct make-shift vaccination centers in areas around the country where progress is slow. The administration also announced plans to release vaccines that were previously kept in reserve for second doses. So, it just makes good sense to set our goals to meet this emerging capacity. 

In fairness, the president has, in recent days, appeared to acknowledge that his original goal might have been too modest, saying “we might be able to get to … 1.5 million (doses) per day” in the coming weeks and months. Unfortunately, the White House was quick to clarify that the official goal remains the same. 

Instead of aiming so low, the administration should announce its intention to build on the current vaccine progress such that we can fully vaccinate 100 million people in the administration’s first 100 days. Additionally, the administration should pledge that, within the 100 days after that, everyone who wants to be vaccinated should have the opportunity. That would effectively, if not completely, bring an end to the pandemic in the U.S. by mid-summer. Undoubtedly, it would be a tough lift and a significant expansion from the original goal.  

But there is reason for optimism. The AstraZeneca vaccine has already been approved for use in the United Kingdom, and Johnson & Johnson is expected to submit their application for emergency use authorization to the FDA within the coming weeks.  Importantly, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine only requires a single dose whereas the other three require two doses several weeks apart. The United States has an agreement with Johnson & Johnson to deliver 100 million doses by the end of June. Logistically, only a portion of those doses could be distributed to vaccination centers before Biden’s 100-day plan expires at the end of April. But by the time the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is approved, we may only need a fraction of that to fulfill a more ambitious goal of 100 million people vaccinated  in 100 days.  

With the emergence of new variants of the COVID-19 virus in the United Kingdom, South Africa and elsewhere, the need for fast distribution of these vaccines could not be greater. Thankfully, the currently approved vaccines appear to be effective against the new strains. But let’s not press our luck — all of the new variants are significantly more transmissible, and the U.K. variant may be between 30 and 40 percent more deadly, according to recent findings

In the ninety or so days remaining in the president’s first 100 days, the administration should show us that it understands every day counts, that a vaccine today is significantly more valuable than a vaccine tomorrow both for the recipient and for the rest of us. With the rollout of these vaccines, the prospect of going back to normal life seems closer than at any point in the past year. But let’s not take our eye off the ball. Now is not the time to pretend that trivial goals are somehow lofty ones just so we can pat ourselves on the back for having achieved them — especially when the lives of so many are at stake. 

Andrew Reed ’21 can be reached at andrew_reed@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.



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