Three Million Shots A Day!

Low expectations, good results

Shortly after President Biden took office, I began asking his aides why their publicly announced goal for Covid-19 vaccine distribution — an average of one million shots a day — was so unambitious. The pace wasn’t much faster than what the Trump administration had achieved in its final days, and it was far short of the rate at which vaccine makers would be delivering doses to the government. Based on that delivery schedule, a reasonable goal seemed to be three million shots a day.

White House officials responded by talking about the logistical challenges in giving so many shots. But they never explicitly denied that three million daily shots was realistic. The response left me suspecting that their true goal was closer to three million than one million, but that they wanted to set a public goal they could comfortably clear.

Whatever you think of the P.R. strategy (and I tend to prefer transparency over artificially low expectations), the administration has now reached three million shots a day. And it deserves credit for getting there so quickly.

By The New York Times | Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Doing so has required a campaign that resembles wartime mobilizationin its speed and complexity. It has involved state and local governments as well as the private sector. It has combined existing infrastructure like pharmacies with brand-new mass-vaccination clinics at sports stadiums and amusement parks.

Over the past five days alone, more than 5 percent of Americans have received a vaccine shot. In all, nearly one-third of Americans have now received at least one shot. That’s more, on a per-capita basis, than in any other large country other than Britain. Canada and continental Europe are far behind — and Australia, Brazil, China, India and Russia have been even slower.

By The New York Times | Sources: Local governments via Our World in Data, World Bank

A surge avoided, so far

Without the acceleration in vaccinations, the number of new Covid cases in the U.S. would almost certainly have spiked in the last several weeks, as it has in much of the world. Instead, new U.S. cases have plateaued. They remain alarmingly high, but the widelypredicted spring surge has not happened — so far, at least.

By The New York Times | Sources: Governments and health agencies, World Bank

Perhaps even more important, deaths continue to decline, partly because so many of the most vulnerable Americans, like those over age 65, have received at least one shot:

By The New York Times | Sources: State and local health agencies, United States Census Bureau

And now? Four million.

Now that the country has reached three million daily shots, what should the new goal be? There are parts to the answer.

First, a more equitable distribution of vaccines would both be fairer and save more lives, epidemiologists say. In many lower-income communities — across races, but disproportionately Black and Latino — fewer people have received vaccine shots than in affluent communities. Think of it this way: Many low-risk, well-off people have received one or two shots, even as many older people in poorer communities still have not been vaccinated.

A major reason is vaccine hesitancy, which is declining but still a significant problem, especially among Americans without college degrees. A second reason is logistical: It’s easier for professionals to spend time trying to sign up for a shot — and then going to get one — than workers who are paid by the hour. The solution, many experts say, should involve bringing more shots into communities with low vaccination rates and making it easy to get a shot.

The second part of the answer is that three million shots a day won’t remain impressive for long. Four million will be a more sensible goal within a few weeks. Why? Combined, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna and Pfizer will be delivering more than four million shots a day this spring. There is no good reason that shots should languish in storage when the world is in a race against more contagious, severe variants of the virus.

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