Still, more than 40 percent of Americans prioritized for vaccines — in most states, health professionals, the elderly and those with preexisting conditions — have found ways to get their shots. And with roughly 54 million of us having received at least one vaccine dose, we are on pace to far surpass Biden’s original, too-cautious goal of 100 million vaccinations in the administration’s first 100 days.
Now we have not only the two-shot Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, but a one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine that is equally — and astoundingly — effective at preventing grave illness and death. If you get any of the three, as far as scientists can tell, your chance of dying from covid-19 appears to be vanishingly small. Thanks to a new manufacturing partnership between Johnson & Johnson and Merck, Biden says the nation will have enough vaccines to inoculate every adult by the end of May.
And as new infections fall, it is possible to imagine a proximate future in which covid-19 is a tiresome presence rather than a deadly plague. Think of the Fourth of July with family cookouts and in-person fireworks; a World Series with actual fans in the ballparks; the simple pleasure of traveling anywhere again. Yes, we may still wear masks on planes and public transportation; yes, we may keep up some distancing around people we don’t know. And we must maintain constant vigilance against new outbreaks and strains. Still, with those caveats, something like normal life could return by late summer.
But it is also possible to imagine a much grimmer future.
The sharp decline in new U.S. cases of covid-19 appears to have stalled in the past two weeks, and 65,000 a day, if down from 250,000 daily at the peak in January, is far too many. It would be tragic to see the infection curve begin to rise again, especially with victory in sight. More cases inevitably mean not just more illness, hospitalization and death, but more opportunities for the virus to mutate in ways that could make it deadlier or vaccine-resistant.
This is a time to be ever more conscientious: Wear masks, avoid crowded indoor spaces, wash your hands. Driving the infection rate much lower and keeping it there while everyone gets vaccinated is our quickest route to our new normal.
But two Republican governors — Greg Abbott of Texas and Tate Reeves of Mississippi — are working against the nation’s public health by ending their states’ mask-wearing mandates and declaring that all businesses can go back to operating the way they did before the pandemic.
“The last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking that in the meantime, everything’s fine, take off your mask, forget it,” Biden told reporters Wednesday when asked about those boneheaded decisions. “Wear a mask and stay socially distanced. And I know you all know that. I wish the heck some of our elected officials knew it.”
Abbott is governor of the second-most-populous state, with nearly 30 million residents; what happens in Texas doesn’t stay in Texas. He threatens to create a gigantic covid-19 hot spot in the middle of the country, hindering efforts by responsible governors and the federal government to quash the virus. Abbott is already trying to blame immigrants for what he has to know is the inevitable result of this decision. Many Texans will do the right thing and continue to take precautions. But I fear that many others will not.
And if our leaders fail, we all have to step up in their places. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll published last week, African Americans and Hispanics are more likely than Whites to say they want to “wait and see” before deciding whether to get vaccinated. And a deeply worrisome 38 percent of Republicans said they would “definitely not” be vaccinated or would do so “only if required.”
But if you wouldn’t get the vaccine simply in the name of public health, do it in self-interest. If you miss sending your kids off to school, eating at restaurants, traveling on airplanes and other pleasures of pre-covid life, then do yourself — and the rest of us — a favor: Get in line and get the shot.