In January, when Joe Biden was inaugurated President, new coronavirus cases were averaging as many as 250,000 per day and the new administration faced the daunting task of rolling out limited vaccines.
In a positive turn, we are now reporting about 70,000 new coronavirus infections per day and this past Saturday, we set a single-day record of 4.6 million vaccine doses delivered.
It remains very clear that the next two to three months of coronavirus management, vaccine distribution, and overall leadership on healthcare will be significantly important to the Biden administration’s success, as well as Democrats’ chances in the 2022 midterms for US House and Senate.
Above all, based on the FDA and CDC’s latest recommendation to briefly pause distribution of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the Biden administration and Democrats must redouble their efforts to increase vaccine education and confidence. Further, they would benefit greatly politically from doing so in a bipartisan fashion.
Some experts argue that the pause indicates that vaccine safety checks are indeed working, given that the checks have identified what are, in essence, one-in-a-million cases of blood clots. Yet, the unintended consequence may also be an increase vaccine hesitancy among those who have not yet received their vaccine or just recently became eligible.
Accordingly, a bipartisan vaccine education campaign must focus on two central features:
First, safety. The vaccine is the most important tool to reduce new cases, reduce hospitalizations, and save lives. Further, millions in the US and indeed around the world have received one or two doses with no side effects other than what might be expected from an average vaccine. In fact, widespread vaccination in countries like Israel and the UK has succeeded in reducing negative health outcomes.
Second, economic incentives. It’s clear that for the US economy, the vaccine is the strongest catalyst for economic recovery and expansion in 2021. Vaccination is not only the leading way to reopen businesses safely, but also to create jobs and new economic opportunities across our country. Average consumers can also finally enjoy live events and experiences once again, from sports to concerts to travel or simply dining out.
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Looking forward, it is also critical that the Biden administration leads from the front on shoring up our healthcare infrastructure to support both the current vaccine rollout and what our healthcare system will need to look like in the future.
In the near future, we will face the potential need for booster shots of the vaccine and varying health implications for people who previously recovered from a COVID-19 infection.
The recent stimulus bill will go a long way in supporting the continued rollout of the vaccine and help establish effective vaccination systems for the future.
The question of how we best deliver affordable and accessible healthcare to people who recovered from a COVID-19 infection, as well as the millions more Americans with preexisting conditions, remains an open question.
When the Democrats retook the House in 2018, the majority of successful candidates from swing districts ran on improving the Affordable Care Act, and President Biden has also promised to make health care more affordable.
While the ultimate goal may be to reform health care by adding a public option or lowering the eligibility age for Medicare, the time isn’t now.
Instead, Biden and the Democrats should look to ways to make healthcare and prescription drugs more affordable right away. This can and should include immediate action to lower prescription drug prices through rebate reforms, so patients can get the medications and treatments they need as the fight against the pandemic carries on.
Giving prescription drug rebates directly to Americans—instead of rebates going to insurance companies—can easily expand access to new treatments and lower out-of-pocket costs at a time when many in the economy continue to struggle.
By making prescription drug affordability a priority alongside vaccine education, Biden and the Democrats can help average people, and indeed their base voters, immediately.
It’s time for the administration to deliver on their healthcare promises of defeating the coronavirus and making healthcare more affordable—two promises that delivered them a unified Democratic government in 2020. Though, if the Biden administration and Democrats fail to follow through on these promises, they risk losing their unified government in 2022.