Joe Biden won the presidency largely because of his opponent’s refusal to take the Covid-19 pandemic seriously. In his campaign, Biden promised a nationwide mask mandate, better utilization of the Defense Production Act, a mass vaccine program, and, most importantly, a shift towards listening to public health experts. While President Biden’s vaccination push has been successful in curbing the spread of Covid-19, his administration has not provided enough incentives for vaccine skeptics to get the jab. This will result in the pandemic being prolonged.
The Biden administration has done a good job of restoring the role of science in the White House. The administration has been incredibly transparent about where we stand in the fight against the pandemic, while also not interfering with individual state efforts to reopen their economies. Additionally, President Biden has set a clear expectation that Americans wear a mask, something his predecessor was fairly shaky on. Most importantly, vaccine distribution has taken off, with vaccines widely available to the American public.
However, vaccine demand is already starting to go down. As all 50 states make those 16 and older eligible, red states in particular are starting to have a surplus of doses. The main reason for this is vaccine hesitancy. While there have always been vaccine skeptics in America, the fast rollout of the Covid-19 vaccines, as well as a widespread misinformation campaign, have resulted in a significant minority of the population being unwilling to get vaccinated.
The Biden administration has not done enough to reach out to those who are hesitant to get vaccinated through incentivizing the jab. At the beginning of April, the CDC released guidelines for vaccinated people which included being allowed to resume domestic travel without having to quarantine, as well as not needing a Covid-19 test to travel internationally. However, just days later, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said that vaccinated people should still avoid travel until the pandemic is over. Along with these confusing mask restrictions, Americans in many states have to put on a mask the moment they leave their place of residence whether indoors or out. Even when walking down the street in most American cities it is expected that one wears a mask. Additionally, the CDC still recommends that vaccinated people can only have “small gatherings” inside with other vaccinated people. Only in the past week has the Biden administration changed its recommendation so that people who have been fully vaccinated can be outdoors without a mask. Until the CDC decides to relax restrictions for vaccinated people, for some people, there will be little incentive to get vaccinated.
The Biden administration’s recommendation to pause the rollout of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has also caused people to become more hesitant to get the vaccine. This was a result of 15 cases of blood clots among millions of doses administered. In a poll released on April 15th, data showed that confidence in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine had plummeted 15% since the pause, falling from 52% to 37%. While it is important to examine the adverse side effects that may come from these vaccines, the low numbers of blood clots do not justify scaring the public about the vaccines. While pausing the Johnson & Johnson vaccine hasn’t changed public perception on the other two vaccines, it has eliminated a key option for quickly ramping up inoculation.
When people are hesitant to get the vaccine, it harms both vaccinated and unvaccinated people. By allowing the continued spread of Covid-19 through unvaccinated and some vaccinated people, variants are more likely to become prevalent — some of which are resistant to the vaccine. Additionally, the faster the population becomes vaccinated, the quicker the economy comes back. The goal, herd immunity, which is reached when 75-80% of the population is immune through vaccination or having contracted the coronavirus, will be the only way to get the country (and the economy) out of the pandemic.
In short, the Biden administration has done a good job making vaccines available to the public and restoring science’s role in executive decision-making. However, their messaging on the vaccine as well as their reluctance to loosen restrictions for vaccinated people is self-defeating. If the Biden administration wants to get serious about quelling vaccine hesitancy, they should take significant action to get rid of restrictions for fully vaccinated people. The United States has a long way to go to reach herd immunity but the benefits far outweigh the cost when the administration considers loosening restrictions in order to get there.