It’s now nearly a year since the Trump administration learned that a deadly virus was making its way into our country. During that period, the White House and many governors have engaged in a political wrestling match over who was responsible for leading the battle against the coronavirus pandemic. While you may not like the conclusion, it is clear that President Trump never took this crisis seriously, and is even less concerned now that his tenure is about to end.
It may be an uphill battle, but President-elect Joe Biden has made it clear that he is willing to aggressively step into that battle on Jan. 20, because the next six to nine months will determine whether the pandemic is beaten. There are two good reasons why there has to be a field general leading the fight. America can’t afford for this dark cloud to linger indefinitely because of the economic damage we have experienced. Moreover, what if there is another pandemic, caused by one of our political enemies?
Prior to the election, the president predicted that there would be many millions of vaccinations before the end of the year. To date, fewer than three million people have been inoculated, and only 11 million doses have been distributed around the country. The slow rate of inoculations is due to the fact that many states are staggering under the weight of testing costs and the needs of responders. Local governments and health care institutions have been on their own for 10 months after being told by Washington that the virus was a state-by-state problem.
Biden has pledged to get inoculation numbers up to one million a day. That is comforting, but health care professionals estimate that even at that rate, it would take over a year to vaccinate every American. And to reach that pace, the federal government will have to take some draconian measures.
The Defense Production Act dates back to the Korean War. It gives the president the power to force companies to drop their private customers and produce what the country needs. Trump claimed he used the act to get General Motors to build more respirators, but GM claimed it came forward on its own to build them. The president didn’t aggressively use the act, for fear of offending his conservative base, which opposes government intervention.
Why is there a need for use of the act now? When you have a mass anti-virus campaign, you need more than a vaccine. The big pharma companies are spending billions of dollars to keep up with their competition and protect their stockholders. In addition to the vaccines, you need cotton swabs, syringes, packing materials, dry ice and other supplies, and those products aren’t manufactured by big pharma. That’s where the federal government comes in. Using the act, manufacturers can be forced to produce the goods that are needed to get a complete program in place.
While Biden is preparing to take on the vaccine program, the pandemic is exploding in numerous states that have a shortage of hospital gowns, masks and gloves and can’t cover the costs of doctors, nurses and other first responders. Bipartisan Covid relief legislation finally signed last week by the president will inject some new money into the efforts of local organizations, but it won’t make up for the costs they have been incurring since last March.
The world is keeping a close eye on our national effort, and many friendly countries are trying to figure out why we’ve done such a terrible job of combating the virus. But our enemies are also keeping a close eye on our tragedy. In his latest book, “Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World,” author and CNN host Fareed Zakaria claims that our enemies could create another health crisis in our country in as little as 24 hours. Are we capable of handling another one? You know the answer to that question.
The weeks and months ahead will determine how long America will suffer and how well we will heal. Happily, the incoming administration is prepared to pick up the ball dropped by the outgoing one.
Jerry Kremer was a state assemblyman for 23 years, and chaired the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee for 12 years. He now heads Empire Government Strategies, a business development and legislative strategy firm. Comments about this column? JKremer@liherald.com.