Editorial: Arrival of coronavirus vaccine is crucial but lonely triumph

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He is the most capable of times and the most incompetent. A vaccine against SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus, was administered in California the same year as the first known U.S. death from the virus in San Jose, a record triumph for science, industry and government. And yet, the first doses are given to health workers facing an outbreak of infections, hospitalizations and death that is also breaking records across the state and country, an indictment of one of the worst responses to the pandemic.
Until this year, it took four years to develop the fastest vaccine in history against mumps. The approval of the coronavirus vaccine by the Food and Drug Administration last week came about 11 months after the genetic code for the pathogen was released.

Incredibly, the vaccine developed by New York-based Pfizer and German company BioNTech, the first such treatment to use messenger RNA technology, is expected to be closely followed by another such vaccine, by Moderna, based in Massachusetts, showing equally impressive efficiency. Other vaccines, from Anglo-Swedish company AstraZeneca and others, are expected to be approved in the coming months.

The deployment of nearly 3 million doses this week, of which more than 300,000 have been distributed to California hospitals and other healthcare facilities as of Sunday, is a victory as monumental for President Trump’s administration as it is completely in isolation. in its otherwise disastrous management. contagion.

Even that success has been marred by missteps, including a puzzling rejection of Pfizer’s offer of twice as many doses for early delivery. This could prolong an unprecedented massive inoculation which is already expected to take months.

The vaccination effort will also need to overcome the misplaced but widespread anti-vaccination sentiment to which Trump and Gov. Gavin Newsom bowed before the pandemic. The president further put public confidence in upcoming vaccines at risk by haranguing the FDA on the speed of its already expedited review, creating a perception of political interference in a process that requires independence and objectivity.

The administration’s Operation Warp Speed ​​funded faster vaccine development by Moderna, AstraZeneca, and others – but not Pfizer, which avoided government research support – as well as accelerated production before the ‘approval. But Trump disagreed with the government’s preparation and expertise that makes such projects possible. His White House dissolved a National Security Council office responsible for pandemic preparedness, and he competed with top scientists such as Dr.Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. , and Rick Bright, the ousted head of the agency that funds the development of crucial vaccines, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.

This helped ensure that the vast knowledge and wealth successfully harnessed to develop and manufacture life-saving vaccines did not protect 300,000 American lives beyond saving from the pandemic – a number that is growing faster than ever. Much of this loss can be attributed to abdication by administering responsibility for testing and tracing, distributing protective equipment, wearing masks and other warrants, and assisting employers. , employees, and state and local governments.

Some of those governments have tried to step into the breach, but early successes in California and the Bay Area give way to a wave of infections about to overwhelm the capacity of hospitals. A vaccine arriving at unprecedented speed will therefore be too late for too many.

This commentary is from The Chronicle’s editorial board. We invite you to express your point of view in a letter to the editor. Please submit your letter through our online form: SFChronicle.com/letters.

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