When Pfizer’s vaccines were authorized in December last year, most people were thrilled. It seemed as though finally an end to the madness and a return to normalcy might actually be in sight. Now, a month later, that light at the end of the tunnel looks only slightly brighter, if at all. 

The vaccine rollout across the country has been lethargic, while the virus’ assault on the United States has continued to accelerate; December claimed the most coronavirus-related casualties of any month yet. The Biden administration’s questionable answer to this: speed up the rollout and distribute any second doses currently being withheld.

There have been many reasons to criticize the Trump administration’s pandemic-related rhetoric and policies, stretching back to his initial response in March 2020. The Food and Drug Administration has held firm that two doses of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, at the corresponding intervals, are required for effective protection against the virus. While the newly-elected president is certainly correct in being disappointed with the sluggish distribution of the vaccines, the answer is not to disregard the reported science, as his predecessor has chosen to do consistently. Doing so, as the FDA has commented, could lead to damaging public health results — something definitely undesirable during a worsening pandemic. 

President Joe Biden and the Democrats need to focus their efforts on continuing the rollout of the vaccine without sacrificing the effectiveness of individuals receiving two doses. Although it currently may not be possible to simply ramp up distribution, there are steps that can be taken to remove the current barriers that are further slowing down the process. A great deal of funding needs to be allocated to the states to help with the rollout. Doing so will help the frontlines both by creating larger or additional administration sites and bringing in additional staff, as many hospitals are currently overwhelmed with the surge of cases. 

Pressure also needs to be put on the FDA to ramp up the testing and potential emergency approval of additional vaccines. While it is understandable that this process also has time restraints with regard to making informed and safe decisions, it should be a top priority to get additional vaccines approved and in circulation. With the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine already approved for emergency use in the United Kingdom and India, doing so in the U.S. could soon be a reality. 

Still, these efforts only marginally speed up the process. It makes sense that vaccinating a country of over 300 million people is going to be a gradual process. Indeed, everything that can be done to help (as long as it does not add to the public health disaster already on our hands) should be done. But, that asterisk is important. Choosing to disregard scientific information for short-term gains could be more costly than beneficial. 

The U.S. is not alone in its struggle to swiftly administer a vaccine, either. France, for instance, is having a particularly difficult time, with extensive vaccine and pandemic-related red tape proving to be a nuisance. In other parts of Europe, supply shortages are causing similar delays. That is not an excuse to cease pushing for a faster rollout, but should rather serve as a message of comfort that we are not alone in this struggle. 

The past month should be a realization that even though vaccines have been approved, approval does not ensure immediate distribution. Patience is the answer right now, despite how costly each day continues to be. 

With that being said, some states are doing better than others. Michigan currently lies in fifth place in regards to the number of vaccine doses administered, despite having given only a mere 1.6% of its population the initial dose. States that are struggling are resorting to a similarly concerning rhetoric that Biden is proposing; vaccines that are sitting on shelves need to be distributed. On the surface, it sounds like a logical demand, but if it means vaccinating some only partially, it could push us further into catastrophe.

As the country rapidly approaches 450,000 deaths from COVID-19, Biden’s eagerness and dedication to effectively tackling the pandemic will be a welcome change. But, although it is difficult to preach patience as that number continues to steadily rise, sacrificing his previously keen adherence to public health and scientific recommendations is not the answer. If anything, now is the time to sharpen that obedience and insist on the same out of the rest of the country. 

The entering message from the Biden administration needs to demand a last stretch of cooperation from Americans, in regard to mask-wearing and even more importantly, social distancing. Whatever it takes to promote adherence to those guidelines needs to be done. 

An end is in sight, so let’s not push it further away. 

John Tumpowsky can be reached at jgtump@umich.edu.

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