On Monday morning, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer announced that its new covid-19 vaccine was proving 90 percent effective in trials. This was spectacularly good news, if it holds up, far exceeding the expectations of many epidemiologists and sending the stock market soaring. But almost immediately, this development — like everything else that seems to happen in modern America — became subsumed in a political fight.
Republicans rushed to claim credit. Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Tex.) tweeted (and Donald Trump Jr. retweeted): “Great work by the administration pushing the historic and unprecedented vaccine development under Operation Warp Speed, even as cynical Democrats attempted to undermine its credibility. Joe Biden’s only plan for the virus is Trump’s plan. Always has been.”
Progressives replied that the Pfizer vaccine had nothing to do with Operation Warp Speed, because Pfizer refused to take government money during its development. “We were never part of the Warp Speed,” one of Pfizer’s senior executives said. “We have never taken any money from the U.S. government, or from anyone.”
This is true, but not the whole story. While Pfizer hasn’t taken government research and development funding, it did sign a nearly $2 billion contract with the federal government to deliver 100 million doses by December. The resources of the federal government will then be of vital importance in distributing this, and other vaccines, in the huge quantities necessary to immunize most of the population. This guaranteed market could give the drugmaker confidence to pour vast resources into the development of the vaccine.
The reality is that this is a classic public-private partnership that scrambles traditional ideological lines. Republicans are distrustful of big government, while progressives are distrustful of big corporations, especially “Big Pharma.” Yet government and industry have to work together to combat this once-in-a-century pandemic — just as they worked together to win World War II, send astronauts to the moon and build the interstate highway system.
The development of the Pfizer vaccine also rebuts the anti-globalism and protectionism that are increasingly found on both the “Occupy Wall Street” left and the Trumpian right. Work on the vaccine began in January in Mainz, Germany, at a biotech start-up called BioNTech, which was founded by the children of Turkish immigrants. BioNTech used cutting-edge technology to inject genetic material known as messenger RNA into muscle cells to stimulate the immune system. Because BioNTech lacked the resources to test and manufacture the vaccine quickly, it launched a partnership with Pfizer, a U.S.-based firm that it is one of the largest pharmaceutical makers in the world.
If the Pfizer vaccine helps to free us from the threat of covid-19, there will be plenty of credit to go around — and it won’t conform to narrow partisan categories. Reality is too messy for ideology.
The Trump administration deserves plenty of blame for its mishandling of the pandemic. The president has refused to listen to the scientists, and he has undermined public health measures. He has even increased the spread of the disease directly at rallies that are estimated to have infected at least 30,000 people and killed at least 700. His failure helps to explain why on Sunday the United States had more than 100,000 new cases of covid-19 while our neighbor to the north, Canada, had slightly more than 4,000. (Canada has roughly 7,000 cases per 1 million population, while we have more than 31,000 cases per 1 million.)
But just because Trump got most things about the virus wrong doesn’t mean he got everything wrong. It is incumbent on those of us who are his critics to acknowledge that so far Operation Warp Speed — the effort to develop and distribute a covid-19 vaccine — appears to be succeeding far beyond initial expectations. In late October, officials involved in the effort predicted that hundreds of millions of vaccine doses will be distributed in the first three months of 2021. The positive results of the Pfizer trial make this prediction plausible.
“Going from where we were in January and February — where we are going to be hit by this tsunami — to very likely having a vaccine, or more than one vaccine, that is proven safe and effective within a year, is staggeringly impressive, and would only have happened with strong and effective federal action,” Robert Wachter, chair of the department of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco, told The Post. He called the vaccine effort “nearly flawless” — words that he found hard to say, he admitted, because he has strongly (and rightly) criticized the administration’s overall response to the virus.
The Trump administration made a big mistake by politicizing the coronavirus — a mistake that may have cost Trump reelection. Let’s not make the same mistake now by politicizing the effort to develop a vaccine, which could lead many Americans to resist taking the drug. President-elect Joe Biden is doing his best to lessen partisan animosity and bring Americans together. The fight against covid-19 — a disease that does not discriminate between blue states and red states — is a good place to start.
Walter Isaacson: I was part of a trial for Pfizer’s covid-19 vaccine. It’s a miracle for genetic medicine.
The Post’s View: Even if Trump leaves office, fighting the virus will be much harder this winter thanks to him
Coronavirus: What you need to know
Where do things stand? See the latest covid numbers in the U.S. and across the world. In the U.S., pandemic trends have shifted and now White people are more likely to die from covid than Black people.
The state of public health: Conservative and libertarian forces have defanged much of the nation’s public health system through legislation and litigation as the world staggers into the fourth year of covid.
Grief and the pandemic: A Washington Post reporter covered the coronavirus — and then endured the death of her mother from covid-19. She offers a window into grief and resilience.
Would we shut down again? What will the United States do the next time a deadly virus comes knocking on the door?
Vaccines: The CDC recommends that everyone age 5 and older get an updated covid booster shot. New federal data shows adults who received the updated shots cut their risk of being hospitalized with covid-19 by 50 percent. Here’s guidance on when you should get the omicron booster and how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections.
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