The Corner

Health Care

Hey, Remember Biden’s ‘I’m Going to Shut Down the Virus’ Pledge?

President Joe Biden delivers remarks at the White House at a celebration of Independence Day in Washington, D.C., July 4, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

The United States has administered more than 369 million shots to its citizens, and more than 173 million Americans are fully vaccinated — in the sense of having received two shots of Pfizer or Moderna, not necessarily boosters — and 204 million Americans have at least one dose. Almost 62 percent of all Americans have at least one dose, 72 percent of those age 12 or older, 74 percent of those age 18 and older, and almost 92 percent of senior citizens.

If someone had told you back in January, when only a tiny fraction of Americans had access to the vaccine, “by September, almost 75 percent of all American adults will be at least partially vaccinated against COVID-19,” most people probably would have seen it as a huge accomplishment and a sign that the pandemic was nearly over.

It doesn’t feel like that, does it? The fight against the pandemic is not going great on all fronts. The seven-day average for daily new cases is past 158,000. More than 100,000 Americans are hospitalized with COVID-19, an increase of 22 percent in the past two weeks; the daily average number of COVID-19 deaths has nearly doubled in the past two weeks to 1,348.

Is this driven almost entirely by the unvaccinated? Sure. They’re the ones ending up in the hospital and filling up ICU wards, and they’re the ones who are dying. But the rest of us cannot get back to normal, either. In sixteen states, school districts have temporarily returned to “distance learning” because of outbreaks in their communities or their schools. Large conventions, festivals, and concerts are being canceled because organizers deem them too risky.

Nine months after vaccinations began, many of us thought the pandemic would be well behind us. Instead, Oregon is requiring the fully vaccinated to wear masks outdoors.

Keep those updated percentages in mind when you see references to mid-July polls indicating 67 percent of Americans are vaccinated. Anti-vaxxers are a small percentage of the population; in that mid-July poll, only 14 percent of the population said they were definitely not getting vaccinated, even if it was required by their jobs.

The Delta variant pushed the herd immunity threshold much, much higher. Vaccinating everyone who wants to get vaccinated clearly isn’t going to be enough. Keep in mind, until the FDA approves a vaccine for kids, another 50 million Americans can’t get vaccinated.

Unless the government is willing to send armed teams, door to door, across the country to forcibly vaccinate people, we’re never going to reach 100 percent vaccination of those who are eligible.

The messaging from the CDC and the Biden administration is that we can only get back to normal when the people who have sworn a million times that they refuse to get vaccinated give up and get vaccinated. But clearly, they are unlikely to change their minds. Assurances from public health officials didn’t change their minds. Watching many of their friends and relatives get vaccinated did not change them minds. Public service announcements and commercials didn’t change their minds. Hearing about those skeptical of the vaccine dying from COVID-19 didn’t change their minds. Prizes and lotteries didn’t entice them. The fact that more than 656,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 has not convinced them. (The daily rate has gone up a bit in recent days, so maybe the full FDA approval of Pfizer really did change some minds.)

“We just have to wait until they change their minds” is not a feasible strategy. Almost 75 percent of American adults did what they were supposed to do. We’re about to enter either the nineteenth or twenty-first month of this pandemic, depending upon whether you count from the national shutdown in March 2020 or the first cases in January 2020.

Ten months ago, then-candidate Joe Biden declared, “I’m not going to shut down the country. I’m not going to shut down the economy. I’m going to shut down the virus.”

It’s almost the end of August, and Biden has been in office for 222 days. The country’s not quite shut down, and neither is the economy — but neither are quite 100 percent back to normal, either. And the virus isn’t shut down, either.

Biden doesn’t know how to “shut down the virus” any more than he knows how to safely and honorably withdraw from Afghanistan.

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