The Corner

Health Care

The Pandemic Paradox for Biden

A healthcare worker prepares the Moderna coronavirus vaccine at a vaccination center in El Paso, Texas, May 6, 2021. (Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters)

Joe Biden’s problem is easy to state, but impossible for him to escape. People who are genuinely safe from COVID-19 — the vaccinated — continue to believe and act as if they are in great danger. People who are in a moderate amount of danger from COVID-19 — the unvaccinated who have comorbidities — act as if they are safe.

Obviously a sense of danger drives vaccine take-up. People who are genuinely frightened of getting COVID, whether they have a reason to be or not, take up the vaccine. Much of this is reasonable; that’s why elderly people who are most vulnerable have the highest rates of vaccination. Or, when there is a wave of disease hitting an area — as in the American South recently — vaccination rates begin to tick upward.

We’ve seen this standoff before. Fearful people don’t want restrictions or mandates to be eased until there is a much higher rate of vaccination. The unvaccinated are against any continuing restrictions, and many of them have been working and living as normally as possible throughout the pandemic.

This is how we get to a White House that has to assure the vaccinated that they’ll be protected. And because public-health messaging hasn’t worked to convince the unvaccinated yet, that part of the populace is being treated more and more with moral language and attempts at legal coercion than it is with persuasion.

It’s as if the Biden administration is waiting on public mood to shift in a way that allows them to declare victory, again. But in the absence of a clear, scientifically legible, and achievable public-health goal, announced by our leaders, people are following their intuition and anxiety into the extremes.

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