The beginning of the week came with tremendous news in the race for a coronavirus vaccine, with Pfizer announcing that their candidate in late-stage clinical trials was 90 percent effective in stopping the transmission of the virus in volunteers without antibodies. President-elect Joe Biden responded warmly to the development, congratulating the “brilliant women and men who helped produce this breakthrough and to give us such cause for hope,” while warning that Americans must stay vigilant in the months before a vaccine is widely available.
Since then the vaccine news has been less sunny for Biden, as his transition team reportedly faces a man-made problem. According to the New York Times, the president-elect’s advisers worry that they are “being shut out of planning for distribution of a coronavirus vaccine” — a massive undertaking in the best of circumstances in a nation with desperate health-care inequality and a sizable percentage of the population skeptical of the very idea of inoculation.
Biden’s transition advisers are reportedly concerned that they have not gained access to the details of Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s push to aid drug companies in the search for a vaccine and large-scale manufacturing of dosages for the public. (The hold-up on the vaccine briefings is part of a larger refusal by the administration to work with Biden’s transition team because Trump won’t concede the election.)
Though much of the Trump administration’s COVID response has been woefully ineffective, Warp Speed operators have been in communication with drug companies to distribute a vaccine once its efficacy is proven. Pfizer alone struck a $1.95 billion contract with the federal government in July to deliver 100 million doses.
Without briefings on the effort with Pfizer and other firms, the incoming Biden administration fears that it will be playing catch-up on day one, rather than moving swiftly on informed policy to slow the spread of a pandemic that is infecting over 100,000 Americans every day. In the interim, a senior adviser to Biden told the Times that they are working on figuring out the logistics themselves, including the distribution of the vaccine along racial and socioeconomic lines. As the paper notes, that is a priority of Biden’s pandemic plan, but is “rarely discussed by Mr. Trump.”
When Trump first heard the news from Pfizer on Monday, he, too, was thrilled, noting: “STOCK MARKET UP BIG.” But that simple joy of capital gain was soon corrupted, when the president began to complain about a “medical deep state” which he blamed for delaying the announcement until after the election. According to the Washington Post, on Monday, Trump reached out to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to “get to the bottom” of what he considered a plot against him. Both Food and Drug Administration commissioner Stephen Hahn and representatives for Pfizer denied that the vaccine news was delayed to hurt Trump in the election. But that didn’t stop Trump from “screaming” at Hahn over the news, according to one senior administration official.