The Morning Dispatch: Vaccine Blame Game
Team Biden’s Vaccine Blame Game
Are we well on our way to distributing and administering enough COVID-19 vaccine to get the pandemic under control, or is the federal effort to facilitate that distribution in shambles? The fledgling Biden administration staked out both positions at different points in the day Thursday.
It began with a CNN story, sourced to anonymous figures within the Biden transition team, that made a striking claim yesterday morning: The Trump administration, obsessed with overturning the results of the election to the exclusion of all else, let its vaccine distribution strategy fall into such sorry disrepair that Biden’s team was essentially starting from “square one.”
“There is nothing for us to rework,” one source said. “We are going to have to build everything from scratch.”
Then, on Thursday afternoon, a reporter asked President Biden whether his goal of administering 100 million vaccines in his first 100 days in office is ambitious enough. The new president bristled: “When I announced it, you all said it’s not possible. Come on, give me a break, man. It’s a good start.”
But here’s the rub: A pace of 1 million vaccines a day is only marginally higher than the pace reached during the first month of vaccine ramp-up during the Trump administration. According to a Bloomberg compilation of state vaccination data, the rate of inoculations—which has been gradually accelerating since late December—averaged 912,497 per day during the final week of the Trump administration.
There are two things going on here. The first is simple spin. Donald Trump’s strategic messaging typically consisted of wildly overpromising and then changing the subject; Team Biden is performing the more classic Washington maneuver of lowering expectations by aiming for a conservative target while bemoaning how poor of shape the last guy left things in.
As spin goes, it wasn’t very artfully done—particularly after Dr. Anthony Fauci, whom Biden has tapped as his chief medical adviser, disputed the characterization during an afternoon briefing. “We’re certainly not starting from scratch, because there is activity going on in the distribution,” Fauci said. “With the previous administration, you can’t say it was absolutely not usable at all. … So we are continuing, but you’re going to see a real ramping up of it.” By that point, however, the initial story had already rocketed around social media and been mentioned dozens of times on cable air.