In April, when the national drive to immunize everyone against COVID-19 was gaining steam, Johnson & Johnson had to delay the availability of its vaccine because of production glitches.
More recently, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory group reported a “likely association” between the vaccinations and cardiac inflammations in a small number of younger Americans. But it concluded the cases were mostly mild and not life-threatening.
Such glitches were hardly surprising, given the unprecedented goal of vaccinating more than 300 million Americans in less than a year. While they likely slowed the effort, the main barrier remains the innate resistance to any shots in some parts of the population, many Republicans and younger, healthier people.
This is unfortunate. After all, every significant scientific analysis has shown COVID-19 vaccines are safe and do far more to prevent the disease or ease its impact than they do harm.
Those who don’t get vaccinated are far more prone to get COVID-19 than those who do, to endanger those around them, and to suffer potentially serious long-term medical consequences. An Associated Press study of CDC statistics concluded that fewer than 1,200 of the 853,000 COVID-19 hospital admissions in May were fully vaccinated, and only 150 of the 18,000 who died had gotten the needed two shots.
Some studies alleged that several thousand people died after getting the shots, but the CDC said there is no evidence of a connection between the vaccinations and the deaths.
Unfortunately, much of the resistance reflects the degree to which the entire fight against COVID-19 has become politicized, including the successful effort to develop the vaccines. More conservative states, where President Donald Trump’s support was higher last year, tend to have lower rates of vaccination — and higher rates of disease.
And far more self-identified Republicans than Democrats tell pollsters they won’t get shots.
That may reflect fallout from the way Trump initially downplayed the disease’s dangers, flouted scientific recommendations to wear masks and equated efforts by state and local officials implementing restrictive social distancing with curbs on freedom itself.
Last June, when the prevalence of the disease was nowhere close to its ultimate peak, he endorsed the efforts of critics in Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia, who waved the banner of freedom in fighting restrictions ordered by Democratic governors.
“LIBERATE MINNESOTA,” tweeted Trump last June. “LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great Second Amendment,” a reference to laws passed by Virginia Democrats to curb some firearms access.
According to published accounts, Trump and his aides consistently expressed fear that implementation of stricter anti-COVID policies would damage his reelection chances.
And a new book by two Washington Post reporters says Marc Short, Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, feared supplying protective face masks to every household would unnecessarily alarm people.
On the other hand, the fact that Trump was an incumbent simultaneously seeking to manage the pandemic and win reelection made it inevitable that Joe Biden, his Democratic rival, would make a major issue of his handling of the pandemic.
Since the election, Republican presidential hopefuls like Govs. Ron DeSantis of Florida, Greg Abbott of Texas and Kristi Noem of South Dakota have made blatant political plays for Trump voters’ support by speeding reopening of their state’s economies and limiting localities that favored stricter measures.
Of course, the Democrats are not innocent of taking political advantage of vaccine efforts. The Biden administration, which rightfully deserves credit for mounting a successful all-out effort to halt COVID-19 since Jan. 20, has minimized credit to Trump for launching the vaccines.
On the other hand, it’s clear the outgoing administration failed to develop and implement a detailed plan for vaccinating Americans beyond allocating initial batches of vaccine among the states. The Biden administration built upon those efforts, expanding vaccination sites, convincing vaccine makers to increase production and constantly urging compliance.
Unlike the Trump administration’s mixed messages on the virus and its efforts to proclaim premature victory, Biden kept the focus on the need for protection, in part by setting public goals for Americans to do so.
The administration easily met its initial target of 100 million shots in its first 100 days. Its more recent one, protection of 70% of adult Americans with at least one of the two required vaccination shots by July 4, fell narrowly short, in part because of the resistance in certain areas.
But it came close. CDC statistics show 67% have gotten at least one dose, and 56% two doses. “The virus is on the run,” Biden said Tuesday. But the vaccination numbers are lower for younger Americans and in many southern and mountain states.
Still, there’s no way Biden and his administration are “losers” because their effort fell short. The White House still hopes to reach those goals by getting vaccines to as many holdouts as possible via primary care doctors, local pharmacies and mobile units at work sites and special events.
The losers will be those Americans who, for whatever reason, choose not to get the shots. As a result, they are increasing the likelihood they and those around them will suffer from the virus — or die from it — when most of the country is living a COVID-free future.
Carl P. Leubsdorf is the former Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News. Readers may write to him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.