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Politics & Policy

Biden’s CDC Director Doesn’t Know How to Count

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, President Joe Biden’s appointee to run the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), removes her mask to during a news conference at his transition headquarters in Wilmington, Del., December 8, 2020. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

On the menu today: The new director of the CDC says she doesn’t know how many doses of the vaccine the country has, and the finger-pointing about the slow rollout of the vaccine intensifies; the National Guard will stay on patrol on Capitol Hill until mid-March; and contemplating villains from real life and fiction.

The Biden Team’s Vaccination Excuses Begin

We live in a world where the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claims the federal government does not know how many doses of coronavirus vaccine they have at any given moment, which seems like the sort of thing that would matter a great deal when fighting a pandemic and running a national vaccination program.

“I can’t tell you how much vaccine we have, and if I can’t tell it to you then I can’t tell it to the governors and I can’t tell it to the state health officials,” CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told “Fox News Sunday.”

“If they don’t know how much vaccine they’re getting not just this week but next week and the week after they can’t plan. They can’t figure out how many sites to roll out, they can’t figure out how many vaccinators that they need, and they can’t figure out how many appointments to make for the public,” Walensky said.

In a dig at the Trump administration, Walensky said the lack of knowledge of vaccine supply is indicative of “the challenges we’ve been left with.”

Wait, why is keeping track of this figure so hard? Right now, just two companies are manufacturing the vaccine. You can’t tell me there isn’t at least one person at Moderna and one person at Pfizer who knows how many doses each company has manufactured, how many doses have gone to the U.S. and how many have gone to other countries, and how many have been administered so far. At minimum, everyone should have ballpark figures for these numbers.

Every company in the world manages its inventory using UPC codes, and radio-frequency identification chips can help track any shipment that gets misplaced or goes off-course. We live in a world where Amazon, UPS, and the U.S. Postal Service can tell you exactly where your package is while it’s being shipped. Heck, even drug cartels keep careful track of inventory! And we’re being told the CDC can’t keep track of how many vaccines they’ve got and where they’re going? Was no one counting boxes as the shipments rolled off the production line or were shipped to destinations?

Separately, a New York Times article suggested that the administration does have, at minimum, ballpark figures for how many doses are rolling off the production lines and being distributed: “According to a senior administration official, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are on track to deliver up to 18 million doses a week. Together, they have pledged to deliver 200 million doses by the end of March.”

Is it too much to ask that this “senior administration official” call up the CDC and share the numbers they have with Walensky?

None of this makes any sense. Last Friday, New York governor Andrew Cuomo announced his state had temporarily run out of the vaccine. But according to the Bloomberg chart, New York has used just 61 percent of its nearly 2.4 million allocated doses. Either the Bloomberg data are wildly inaccurate, or Cuomo is exaggerating supply problems to cover up distribution problems.

According to the Bloomberg chart, the country has administered 22.3 million doses out of 41.4 million doses delivered. Only North Dakota and West Virginia have used more than 80 percent of the doses delivered. Very few localities should have absolutely no doses left on the shelves.

Also keep in mind that pharmacists are getting six or seven doses out of every vial instead of the projected five. This is how the state of West Virginia has, according to state government data, administered 106 percent of their 156,300 first doses allocated.

Elsewhere in the interview, Walensky suggests that as bad as this current situation is, everything should be improving from this point:

From the data that I’ve seen so far, my understanding is that the current supply crunch is the one that is — I’m most worried about. We have every indication that over time we’ll get more and more vaccine. So we certainly can’t predict any of the — the obstacles that would come in our way here. But from the data that I’ve seen so far, I’m hopeful that we’ll actually get an increasing amount of supply, not a stagnating one.

A big factor is the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. Board member and former U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioner Dr. Mark McClellan said last week that the company “is making a very large supply, going all out with its production, both here in the U.S. and elsewhere around the world, with the goal of having perhaps enough vaccines for 100 million Americans by spring, by this April or so.” The J&J vaccine is a single shot and can be stored at normal refrigeration. (The company is also working on a two-dose regimen that might provide even longer protection.)

Meanwhile, the FDA is moving slowly on approving the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine and not expected to make a decision before February. The company told the European Union that manufacturing problems mean they’ll be delivering fewer doses than they originally projected.

The National Guard Will Patrol Capitol Hill Until March?

Just how long will we need National Guard troops on Capitol Hill?

Former President Donald Trump’s upcoming Senate impeachment trial poses a security concern that federal law enforcement officials told lawmakers last week requires as many as 5,000 National Guard troops to remain in Washington through mid-March, according to four people familiar with the matter.

The contingency force will help protect the Capitol from what was described as “impeachment security concerns,” including the possibility of mass demonstrations coinciding with the Senate’s trial, which is slated to begin the week of Feb. 8.

The people making this decision have access to more information than the rest of us do, and I’m hesitant to second-guess those who have responsibility for protecting thousands of lives. But we were warned about potential violence on January 15 and January 20, and thankfully, no major incidents occurred on either day. The presence of tens of thousands of National Guard troops offered a serious deterrent to anyone who wanted to break the law. Or maybe the 119 rioters arrested by the FBI and facing federal charges so far is discouraging anyone from making the same bad decision twice.

Everyone must recognize that turning Capitol Hill and downtown Washington into a heavily fortified zone with restricted access and “Green Zone”-style checkpoints is not a permanent solution.

Meaning that moving forward, those responsible for securing Capitol Hill should approach decisions with four beliefs in mind:

  • No one wants to see a rerun or sequel to the Capitol Hill riot.
  • All members of Congress, their staffs, and anyone who works in the U.S. Capitol complex should be able to work in a safe and secure environment.
  • The First Amendment rights of the American people to gather and protest their government must be respected.
  • High fences, barbed wire, and military vehicles and troops are not part of the usual security measures at the U.S. Capitol, and should be minimized and removed as soon as possible, in accordance with security needs.

When Fiction Comes Too Close to Real-Life Fears

A few readers have told me they’re somewhat tempted to purchase and read Hunting Four Horsemen, but just can’t bring themselves to read about novel about a virus right now. I can respect that! I would urge them to read Between Two Scorpions . . . except that one involves extremist groups exploiting deep divisions in American society to make people paranoid and suspicious of one another, and so that one might hit a raw nerve, too.

There’s a sweet spot about picking a villain for a thriller novel. If you pick a real-life villain, such as ISIS, al-Qaeda, the FSB, or the North Korean regime, you run the risk of inadvertently glamorizing real-life evil. A voice in the back of the reader’s head knows that while a specific fictional villain such as Karla doesn’t exist, a real-life moral equivalent does. By comparison, an audience can enjoy rooting against Thanos, the Joker, Ernst Blofeld, or Hans Gruber, knowing that the world is not beset by West German radicals who attempt massive heists of bearer bonds under the ruse of terrorism.

In 2008, Sylvester Stallone once offered an astute comment about why he preferred his then-most-recent Rambo movie to focus upon a lesser-known troubled corner of the world such as Burma, instead of al-Qaeda:

I thought the idea of Rambo dealing with Al-Qaeda, etc. would be an insult to our American forces that are actually dying trying to rid the world of this cancer. To have at the end of a 90-minute movie the character of Rambo seizing Osama bin Laden in a choke hold then dragging him into the Oval Office then tossing him in the President’s lap declaring “The world is now safe, Chief,” would be a bit insulting.

So far, I’ve tried to make my villains an unsettling combination of familiar real-world threats and something new and incongruous. The fictional terror group Atarsa’s methods are reminiscent of al-Qaeda and ISIS, but for much of Between Two Scorpions, their motivations are alien and unclear. The bioweapon-manufacturing Hell-Summoner has real-life parallels in South Africa and the real-life Pentagon is studying how foes could use the existing SARS-CoV-2 as a weapon. As two officials with the Council on Strategic Risks wrote in November, “there is great fear that post-pandemic, bad actors will view biological weapons as a cost-effective path to disruption and power. U.S. national security agencies are already studying this concern. . . . Even if the administration does all it can to end the pandemic, COVID-19 will make biological weapons seem more attractive than they have been in decades.”

All of that is understandably disconcerting . . . which is why I throw in all the jokes.

ADDENDA: No matter how badly your Monday started, at least Dominion Voting Systems hasn’t sued you for more than $1.3 billion in damages in a defamation lawsuit — unless your name is Rudy Giuliani, that is . . .

Tom Brady vs. Patrick Mahomes in the Super Bowl — alas, with the Packers’ loss, there will not be a “Jake from State Farm” championship. Please recalibrate your assessments of Bill Belichick’s role in the Patriots Dynasty accordingly.

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