National Review

Biden Must Stop Blaming Trump and Act to Combat the Pandemic

At current rates, the new Biden administration is on track to oversee 250,000 more coronavirus deaths and 15 million more infections within its first 100 days. The Biden camp has responded to this catastrophe with a full-court press to blame it on the Trump administration. I would be the last to dispute accusations of incompetence directed at the Trump gang’s handling of the pandemic. But the buck stops with Biden now, and spinning the disaster as someone else’s fault simply won’t suffice. Luckily for Biden, there are actions his administration can take right now that could save hundreds of thousands of American lives, and possibly millions worldwide. Let’s start with vaccines. The FDA — after a delay that was, under the circumstances, grossly excessive — has approved two vaccines for use in the United States. The Pfizer vaccine was developed using company cash. The development of the Moderna vaccine, however, was paid for by the U.S. government, which means that we, the taxpayers, own the rights to it. So why are we limiting its production to Moderna? Moderna is a very innovative company, and it deserves a lot of credit for its development of a highly effective vaccine against COVID-19 in two days in January 2020. But within the $1.3 trillion per year pharmaceutical industry, Moderna stands as a pygmy among giants. In 2019, Moderna’s total revenue from drug sales was $187 million. By contrast, the top-20 American pharmaceutical companies, starting with Roche at $48 billion in 2019 revenue and continuing on down to Biogen at $11.3 billion, collectively possess thousands of times the production capability of Moderna. To take one example, Merck, which has given up its own vaccine-development effort, has, by itself, over 200 times Moderna’s drug-production capacity. Instead of waiting months or years for little Moderna to produce its — or rather our — vaccine in sufficient quantities to meet the emergency, the Biden administration should license it to Merck and every other qualified company who can produce it, and put in large orders. There are additional vaccines that could be made available quickly: The $40 billion/year heavy hitter Johnson & Johnson has one, as does middleweight $23 billion/year AstraZeneca. Safety testing on both of these vaccines was completed months ago. Yet the FDA is still dragging its heels on approving them for use. In the AstraZeneca case, the FDA’s insistence upon spending another three death-filled months on a test involving 30,000 people before it gives approval is particularly galling, as the AstraZeneca vaccine has already been given to over 1 million people in the U.K. Beyond the vaccines, there is the issue of testing. Any pandemic can be shut down — even without vaccines — if carriers can be isolated. Rapid tests are now available that can identify COVID carriers in 20 minutes. If all American workers were tested once per week, we could send all carriers home, isolating the virus while keeping businesses open. Doing this would require testing 20 million people per day, or 30 million per day if it were only done five days per week. Such a plan is far beyond the capability of the official testing sites, which, going full bore, are averaging about 1 million tests daily. But employers could easily manage it, testing all their employees every Monday morning and sending anyone who tests positive home (or to an official test site for confirmation) by 9 A.M. It is true that such a program would not catch every single case, but to shut down a pandemic all we have to do is identify enough carriers to cut the probability of the average carrier’s infecting another person to less than 1.0. Unfortunately, the FDA has ruled out such use of rapid-testing equipment. Instead of banning employer-led testing, the Biden administration needs to lead it, and vocally encourage all employers to undertake testing efforts. If necessary, the government could even subsidize them; paying 10 million businesses $10,000 each to buy testing equipment would only cost $100 billion, a small fraction of the $1.9 trillion Biden has proposed in his COVID-relief package. But with or without a subsidy, every businessman I know would rush to implement such a program as soon as they were allowed, because the cost of a workplace infection is so much greater. At a time when the virus is mutating into forms that may be able to outflank existing vaccines, setting up such a second line of defense that can work regardless of the effectiveness of vaccines is imperative. President Biden: You have the public’s good will, an enthusiastically supportive press, a thoroughly disorganized opposition, and a situation that requires real leadership. The means to end this pandemic are in your hands. You can either blame Trump for another quarter-million deaths or you can prevent them. The choice is yours.