The recent news of promising trial results in the effort to develop a COVID-19 vaccine gave hope of light at the end of the long pandemic tunnel. That vaccines under development by the pharmaceutical companies Moderna and Pfizer have each proved almost 95 percent effective in the latest trials and that Pfizer may gain emergency government approval to make theirs available possibly even by year’s end can’t help but raise the spirits of a beleaguered and COVID-weary nation and world as this most trying year lurches to a close.
Hopeful as those developments are, however, there’s still a road of uncertain distance to travel even assuming the vaccines’ safety and effectiveness prove out. Among the challenges are gearing up to manufacture sufficient quantities of vaccine, developing an effective, widespread distribution chain and overcoming the skepticism of some — perhaps many — who may resist vaccination. The numbers of vaccinations necessary before COVID-19 will be reined in are daunting, and prioritizing the order in which vaccines are made available is already and will remain an issue.
In short, no one should plan to let down their social-distancing guard soon. As recent news also shows, the virus remains a resilient and dangerous foe that exploits those in areas that do so. In the U.S., almost all states are now experiencing dangerously increasing numbers of infections, hospitalizations and deaths, in many cases well beyond the numbers seen this spring. It’s particularly telling that this week the governors of North Dakota and Iowa — who had previously pooh-poohed limitations on crowd sizes, mask-wearing and other precautions — have reversed course in the face of an alarming increase of cases in those states that threatens to overwhelm their hospital systems.
Closer to home, Gov. Sununu, who had previously shunned a statewide mask mandate, enacted one Thursday by executive order, citing the rising number of cases in the Granite State.
And what has President Trump said about this? The silence has been deafening and disheartening. As the public-health crisis worsens across the country and cries out for unifying and steadying leadership that the nation deserves from its chief executive, the president has not addressed the coronavirus resurgence at all, whether to express concern for those who are suffering or have died, to urge the country to stay resolute in adhering to recommendations of his public health officials to minimize the spread, or to step up his administration’s efforts to help state and local governments, hospitals and other health-care providers cope with the surge.
Instead, the last messaging heard from the president about the pandemic was his repeated insistence leading up the election that the country is “rounding the corner,” an assertion that would be only laughable — one wag commented that we’ve rounded so many corners on coronavirus that we’re now back to where we were in March — if the situation weren’t so threatening and, in too many cases, deadly.
Compounding his complete abdication of his responsibilities — the president reportedly has not met with his Coronavirus Task Force in over a month — Trump steadfastly refuses to let his administration’s public health officials work with the transition team of President-elect Biden to ensure that, if his legal challenges to the election do not overturn the apparent results, there will be a smooth hand-off of the federal government’s responsibility to protect its citizens.
Make no mistake, the Trump administration’s efforts to coordinate and accelerate the development of COVID vaccines in seemingly record time have been impressive. If the vaccines can be rolled out and prove effective in ending the pandemic, he’ll deserve credit.
But that is at least some months away. Right now, Americans are continuing to get sick, require hospitalization and die in increasing numbers, and states and localities may need to return to lockdown or other restrictions that could cripple an already damaged economy. Unless the president starts doing his job in protecting the public health and assuring that protection continues after Jan. 20, Trump will also own that record of sickness and death and economic harm.