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Vaccine Eeyoreism

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The cultural framing of what is in every way an amazing triumph of medical science continues to puzzle me:

Drug companies planned to tell lawmakers Tuesday that they project a major increase in vaccine deliveries that will result in 140 million more doses over the next five weeks, saying they have solved manufacturing challenges and are in a position to overcome scarcity that has hampered the nation’s fight against the coronavirus.

“Because of the dire need to vaccinate more people, we have ramped up production of doses,” John Young, Pfizer’s chief business officer, told the House Energy and Commerce oversight and investigations subcommittee in prepared testimony.

But achieving a surge on that scale remains daunting. Pfizer and Moderna, the companies with the only authorized vaccines so far, will need to increase their combined deliveries to date of 75 million doses to reach their promised target of 220 million shots by March

That’s a goal of 28 million doses each week on average, far greater than their performance so far. The Biden administration said last week that doses allotted to states would grow from 11 million to 13.5 million per week, and it also directed 2 million doses to pharmacies, part of allocations that are expected to increase modestly again this week.

If the companies are able to meet their projections,it would signal the beginning of the end of a period of deep frustration and mark faster progress against a pandemic that has claimed500,000 lives in the United States.The slower-than-anticipated vaccine rollout has hampered progress toward vaccinating the 70 or 80 percent of the U.S. population of 330 million people required to achieve herd immunity against the coronavirus.

Pfizer and Moderna, which both make mRNA vaccines, fell far short of the delivery schedules set by the Trump administration in December, when their vaccines received emergency authorization from the Food and Drug Administration. But both companies are expressing confidence in their latest promises after continuing to invest in manufacturing and steadily advancing production. Combined, the two companies have contracts to provide 600 million doses, which they say will be ready by the end of July.

Pfizer, which is partnered with Germany’s BioNTech in production of its vaccine, has laid out an aggressive timeline for boosting deliveries in coming weeks, according to Young’s advance testimony. The company has been pouring money into doubling batch sizes and adding manufacturing suites, as well as making its own supply of crucial raw materials called lipids and creating its own finish-fill capacity to put batches of vaccine into vials for shipment.

Pfizer reported last week during President Biden’s visit to its Kalamazoo, Mich., manufacturing plant that it had reduced manufacturing time from 110 days to about 60 days.

Pfizer also benefited from an FDA decision that recognized “overfill” in its vials as a sixth dose, creating a 20 percent increase in its deliveries.

Uneven weekly production is among the reasons the Biden administration has not issued new promises beyond its initial goal of delivering 100 million shots within the president’s first 100 days, despite drugmakers’ more ambitious promises, according to a senior administration official who, like other officials addressing production schedules, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the matter’s sensitivity.

If somebody had told you last spring, when COVID-19 was basically shutting down normal life all across the world, that in less than a year hundreds of millions doses of a vaccine that was 100% effective in preventing serious illness from the disease would be available, so that by the summer of 2021 pretty much any adult in the USA who was willing to take it would be vaccinated, what would you have said?

I mean we’re experiencing something very close to absolute best-case scenario here are we not? Sure the rollout could have been much better — too bad that government-wrecking fascist grifters were in charge, maybe we should avoid that in the future — and there are still worries about highly contagious new variants, people who will refuse the vaccine, and so forth.

But the message from public health officials, and the framing of it by the media, strikes me as bizarrely dour. It’s basically something like, “don’t expect to get anything like your normal life back for a very long time, because the vaccine isn’t a magic bullet.”

I get that you want people to continue to exercise caution, wear masks in public, etc., but at some point all this reflexive pessimism becomes counterproductive.

We needed medical science to hit a grand slam while we were down by three runs in the ninth inning, and it did. How about a little more joy in Mudville?

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