Last week, a Covid-19 patient of mine told me he is finally going home after four months in the hospital. His tracheostomy tube has been taken out and he’s breathing on his own. He’s finally able to walk again, with some help. It’s a new beginning for him and as he wished me a happy New Year, I felt hopeful for the first time in a long time.
The Covid-19 statistics in our country have been truly devastating. We surpassed 24 million cases and we are closing in on nearly 500,000 American lives lost to the pandemic. Even here in New York City, after the overwhelming sickness and death we experienced in the spring, hospitals are again nearing capacity, staff are being redeployed to care for Covid patients, and military volunteers are being sent to provide support. It feels like we started 2021 by taking a huge step backward in this pandemic.
But a new administration came into office on Wednesday, and that’s a reason for hope. The Biden administration is already demonstrating a renewed commitment to science-based public health strategies. Last week, Biden announced a new team of scientific advisers and created a Cabinet position for the director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy.
The incoming director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, has publicly committed to leading with science and restoring public trust in the agency. This marks a significant shift from the Trump era, when the White House repeatedly interfered with the CDC’s guidance and data, heavily editing official health recommendations, blocking publication of guidance for reopening restaurants and other public places, and downplaying the risks of reopening schools.
After health care workers spent the last year fighting simultaneous battles against Covid-19 and misinformation about the virus — which oftentimes originated from Trump and other elected officials — the Biden administration’s support of science-based public health messaging feels like a huge burden lifted from our shoulders.
It is true that the vaccine rollout has been fraught with problems. Federal officials projected 20 million Americans would be vaccinated by the end of 2020, but actual numbers reported by the CDC fell far short of this goal with only 2.8 million people receiving a vaccine by the new year. While vaccinations have been ramping up, with the US averaging roughly 1 million doses a day in the last week, it would still take until spring 2022 to vaccinate every adult in the US at this rate, according to a CNN analysis. And as of Friday, nearly 40 million vaccine doses had been distributed, but only about 48%, or 19 million doses, had been administered.
Along with delays in administering the vaccine, there are concerns that supply is running out. Last week, after the Trump administration promised to release a stockpile of vaccines reserved for second doses, it became clear that such a reserve did not exist.
Despite these setbacks, Biden’s administration has vowed a substantial increase in federal support with a goal to administer 100 million shots in 100 days, and I am hopeful that this will happen. The administration has plans to use the Defense Production Act to further scale up production of the materials needed to administer the vaccines.
For states that are struggling with the vaccine rollout, there is also promise of increased support. The President has stated plans to deploy the National Guard and Federal Emergency Management Agency to help set up vaccination sites across the country. He has committed to ensuring that these federal resources are directed to Black, Latino and rural communities that have been hardest hit by the pandemic, and he has called for setting up mass vaccination centers and mobile units to serve areas that are most difficult to reach.
Finally, I am hopeful that the new administration will also restore the global partnerships and goodwill which are so critical during this worldwide health crisis. Trump’s decision to abandon the World Health Organization and his threats to pull funding would have had a negative impact on the global fight against diseases like polio, tuberculosis, HIV, malaria and measles, and placed Americans at a higher risk for global persistence of the pandemic. Biden has promised to rejoin the WHO and face this pandemic as part of the global community.
These are still mostly plans and promises that the new administration has yet to follow through on. But I am hopeful. I am hopeful that we will stand together against this pandemic, and I am hopeful that we now have a federal government that will stand with us.