President Donald Trump’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic is worthy of a passing grade for one reason only — the implementation of Operation Warp Speed and its success in facilitating the development of a vaccine. The rest of his response has been a near-total disaster. Despite the many mistakes and miscalculations of the Trump administration’s coronavirus response, however, it is impossible to ignore the great success of Operation Warp Speed. For this reason, I give his administration a C- for its response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Before diving into the many failures of judgment and execution displayed by the Trump administration, it is worth spending a moment on their great success. President Trump indicated early on in the pandemic that developing a vaccine would be a priority in his response to COVID-19. He officially rolled out Operation Warp Speed on May 15, 2020. The Moderna vaccine — directly funded by this program — was approved by the FDA on December 18, 2020, just seven months later. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, approved a week before Moderna’s, did not take Warp Speed funding, but it did enjoy emergency use authorization and expedited approval that would have been impossible without the involvement of the U.S. government. These vaccines were developed within the unprecedented timespan of a single year for which the Trump administration deserves some credit.
Despite finding success with vaccine development, the Trump administration has dropped the ball on almost every other public health metric related to the COVID-19 pandemic. In February and March, as the pandemic began spreading across the United States, Trump intentionally downplayed the threat of the virus by comparing it to the flu and claiming it would miraculously disappear. His administration did not adequately distribute testing materials across the country, allowing the disease to spread by failing to identify and quarantine its victims. Despite widespread calls to invoke the Defense Production Act to manufacture coronavirus tests, he did not do so until April 19. Trump was also urged to use that act to produce protective equipment for frontline healthcare workers facing severe shortages, but he did so only sparingly. Trump rejected the scientific consensus on mask-wearing, a critical measure to prevent community spread, and he unforgettably recommended the injection of disinfectant into coronavirus patients. In December 2020, as the pandemic reached its worst point to date, Trump remained almost entirely disengaged from the work of combatting the virus, abandoning the American people he is duty-bound to serve.
It should be clear from the above review of President Trump’s coronavirus response that his mismanagement and apathy resulted in many avoidable deaths. While not all COVID-19 deaths can be attributed to him, he must bear some responsibility for the United States having one of the highest per capita COVID-19 mortality rates in the world. Yet with all that said, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. A vaccine has been created for which President Trump’s administration deserves significant credit, having helped fund, assist, and encourage its development. While the overall picture of President Trump’s COVID-19 response is extremely grim, the vaccine is his one saving grace.