On one level, this is perfectly understandable — July was when the delta variant spread across the country, producing a spike in covid cases. This was a gut punch to many who had been hoping that we could put the pandemic behind us. But it is deeply unfair to blame the president for the recent covid surge (now waning). He has done an excellent job of dealing with the pandemic despite incessant criticism and outrageous obstructionism from the right.
When Biden took office, the country had three effective vaccines available thanks to the work of President Donald Trump’s Operation Warp Speed. But there was no good plan for getting shots into people’s arms. Biden appointed a competent, experienced team that worked with vaccine-makers to speed up production and with states and localities to speed up shots. In the seven days leading up to Inauguration Day, an average of 892,399 shots a day were being administered. By April 13, the figure had soared to 3.38 million shots a day — an increase of nearly 280 percent. Biden easily exceeded his goal of getting 100 million shots into arms in his first 100 days.
But then the vaccination campaign ran into resistance among minorities, the young and, especially, Republicans. The pace of vaccinations slowed over the summer, making it impossible to achieve Biden’s goal of getting 70 percent of adults jabbed at least once by July 4. Tragically, this slowdown in vaccinations coincided with the spread of the far more contagious delta variant. The number of daily covid deaths spiked from a seven-day average of 256 on July 1 to more than 2,000 on Sept. 18.
Instead of assuring the public that the pandemic would miraculously disappear on its own or pushing snake-oil therapies, as his predecessor did, Biden responded to the new crisis with much-needed federal action. On Sept. 9, he announced new mandates requiring vaccinations for the federal workforce, workers in medical facilities that accept federal funding, and (with a testing opt out) all employees of companies with more than 100 workers. (Blue states such as California and New York also imposed their own vaccine requirements.) He still didn’t go quite as far as I would have liked — he needs to impose a vaccination requirement for airline or train travel — but he went further than many had expected. It was a bold and gutsy move in light of the predictable political blowback.
The response from Republicans was hysterical and hyperbolic. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) screamed on Twitter, “NO VACCINE MANDATES,” and Rep. Elise Stefanik (N.Y.) condemned the mandates as “authoritarian.” A dozen Republican governors have signed legislation prohibiting coronavirus vaccine mandates in their states. Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas is now trying to forbid even private companies from enforcing vaccine requirements. So much for GOP devotion to the free market.
Meanwhile, Fox “News” Channel undermines the vaccine effort daily. Fox’s anchors — most of whom are vaccinated themselves — elevate backward vaccine resisters such as basketball star Kyrie Irving to the status of folk heroes. Predictably, Fox used Colin Powell’s death from covid to trash vaccines, even though his immune system had been compromised by cancer and Parkinson’s disease.
Predictions that vaccine mandates would fail (“Vaccine Mandates Can’t Stop Covid’s Spread,” warned a typical right-wing op-ed) have not panned out. At Houston Methodist Hospital, 98 percent of the staff have been vaccinated. At Novant Health in the Southeast, it’s 99 percent. At United Airlines, it’s 99 percent of employees. In the Navy, it’s 98 percent of sailors. The number of workers laid off for refusing to get vaccinated is so low that the professional prevaricators at Fox “News” were reduced to falsely attributing flight cancellations by Southwest Airlines to vaccine resistance.
Biden gambled with vaccine mandates — and that gamble is now paying off. Our coronavirus vaccination rate is still too low, and our covid death rate is still too high compared with those of other Western countries, but that’s hardly his fault. Blame Republicans: Only 58 percent of them are vaccinated, compared with 90 percent of Democrats.
There’s not much Biden can do about masochistic right-wingers such as radio host Dennis Prager, who says he deliberately became infected with covid-19 to develop “natural immunity.” But the president is doing almost everything within his power to combat the pandemic — and his efforts are paying off.
There are legitimate reasons to criticize Biden. His handling of covid isn’t one of them.