The Left’s Vaccine Problem

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Good morning. Why aren’t progressive leaders doing a better job at mass vaccination?

Early in the pandemic, countries with populist, right-wing governments were suffering some of the worst outbreaks. These countries had big differences from one another — the list included Brazil, Britain, Russia and the U.S. — but their problems all stemmed partly from leaders who rejected scientific expertise.

More progressive and technocratic countries — with both center-left and center-right leaders, like Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea — were doing a better job containing the pandemic. The pattern seemed to make sense: Politicians who believed in the ability of bureaucracies to accomplish complex jobs were succeeding at precisely that.

But over the last few weeks, as vaccination has become a top priority, the pattern has changed. Progressive leaders in much of the world are now struggling to distribute coronavirus vaccines quickly and efficiently:

Europe’s vaccination rollout “has descended into chaos,” as Sylvie Kauffmann of Le Monde, the French newspaper, has written. One of the worst performers is the Netherlands, which has given a shot to less than 2 percent of residents.

Canada (at less than 3 percent) is far behind the U.S. (about 8.4 percent).

Within the U.S., many Democratic states — like California, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York and tiny Rhode Island — are below the national average. “The parts of the country that pride themselves on taking Covid seriously and believing in government are not covering themselves in glory,” The Times’s Ezra Klein has written.

The success stories

At the same time, there are clear success stories in places that few people would describe as progressive.

Alaska and West Virginia have the two highest vaccination rates among U.S. states, with Oklahoma and the Dakotas also above average. Globally, Israel and the United Arab Emirates have the highest rates. Britain — run by Boris Johnson, a populist Conservative — has vaccinated more than 15 percent of residents.

International patterns are rarely perfect, and this one has plenty of exceptions (like Iowa and Idaho, two red-state laggards, or New Mexico, a blue state that’s above average). So far, though, it’s hard to find many progressive governments that are vaccination role models.

Why? A common problem seems to be a focus on process rather than on getting shots into arms. Some progressive leaders are effectively sacrificing efficiency for what they consider to be equity.

The European Union has taken a ponderous, risk-averse approach that tries to avoid upsetting its member countries, Kauffmann points out. Similarly, many U.S. states have delegated decisions to local health officials and have suffered from “confusion and competition among localities,” William Galston of the Brookings Institution has written. State leaders in Alaska and West Virginia have taken a more top-down approach, Elaine Povich of Stateline has reported.

Some blue states have also created intricate rules about who qualifies for a vaccine and then made a big effort to keep anybody else from getting a shot. These complicated rules have slowed vaccination in both California and New York.

“Across New York State,” my colleague Dana Rubinstein has written, medical providers have had “to throw out precious vaccine doses because of difficulties finding patients who matched precisely with the state’s strict vaccination guidelines — and the steep penalties they would face had they made a mistake.”

What will Biden do?

The world has one new, and very high-profile, progressive government with a chance to show it can do better: the Biden administration.

The Trump administration fell far short of its own goal for vaccination speed, but by its final days it did get the country close to President Biden’s stated goal of 1 million shots per day. Biden has since suggested his new goal is 1.5 million per day.

To make this happen, the administration is pushing Moderna and Pfizer to accelerate production, as well as helping states open mass-vaccination clinics and expand drugstore programs, according to The Times’s Sheryl Gay Stolberg. If the government gives Johnson & Johnson permission to begin distributing its vaccine this month, as appears likely, that will help, too.

The trade-offs between equity and efficiency are real: Rapid vaccination programs will first reach many relatively privileged people. But the trade-offs may be smaller than that sentence suggests. Covid has exacted a terribly unequal toll partly because people in vulnerable groups have suffered more severe versions of the disease, as a result of underlying health conditions.

The most effective way to save lives is probably to vaccinate people as quickly as possible.


The Virus

Israel’s vaccination program has led to a sharp decline in new cases and hospitalizations, showing a plausible way out of the pandemic. But the program has included few Palestinians.

“With everything going on, I just don’t have time to take care of my mental health right now”: A Times special report looks at the pandemic’s toll on America’s mothers.

Tampa, Fla., the Super Bowl’s host, is facing the challenge of preventing the game from becoming a superspreader event. “We’ll make the best of it,” the city’s mayor said.


The House stripped Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of her committee assignments as punishment for past remarks endorsing fatal violence against Democrats. Few Republicans voted to discipline her.

In a Senate session known as a “vote-a-rama,” lawmakers showcased their dueling priorities as they moved forward with Biden’s $1.9 trillion aid package.

Donald Trump declined a request from House impeachment managers to answer questions under oath about his role in the Capitol riot.

The Biden Administration

Biden said the U.S. would end its support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. American-made weapons have killed civilians there.

Biden plans to raise annual refugee admissions to 125,000 people, up from Trump’s cap of 15,000.

Other Big Stories

Federal prosecutors have charged more than 175 people in the Capitol attack (including this self-appointed dating coach). Here’s a look at their ties to militias and other groups.

Smartmatic, an election technology company, is suing Fox News, three of its hosts and two Trump associates for $2.7 billion, accusing them of making false claims.

Jeff Zucker, CNN’s president since 2013, said he would step down at the end of this year.

Morning Reads

Culture: This week’s Times Magazine cover article explores the complex layers of Asian-American immigrants’ experience in a profile of the “Walking Dead” actor Steven Yeun.

Modern Love: A daughter races to collect her father’s memories.

From Opinion: Bryce Covert and Michelle Alexander on raising the minimum wage.

Lives Lived: Sandie Crisp was a transgender actress and model. Under her stage name, the Goddess Bunny, she served as a muse to artists, gay punks and other denizens of the West Hollywood avant-garde. She died, from Covid-19, at 61.


Super Bowl Sunday

Tom Brady, who’s 43 years old, is the most successful quarterback in N.F.L. history. But if any player has a chance to match him someday, it’s Patrick Mahomes, Brady’s 25-year-old counterpart in this weekend’s Super Bowl. “The sport’s biggest legend is about to face its biggest legend in the making,” The Ringer’s Danny Heifetz wrote.

It’s a rare thing in sports (or any realm): An all-time great, who’s fading but still elite, is facing a potential successor. We asked some of our Times colleagues for previous matchups that this Super Bowl brings to mind.

1962 European Cup final. The Portuguese club Benfica beat Real Madrid, which had won five of the first six European Cups. The entertaining 5-3 win was “the passing of a torch,” The Times’s Rory Smith said, and confirmed the ascendence of Eusébio, a Portuguese striker.

1966 World Series, Game Two. Jim Palmer of the Baltimore Orioles, then 20, outpitched the great Sandy Koufax of the Los Angeles Dodgers. “Koufax was at the height of his powers, but his arm was killing him and this would turn out to be the last game he ever pitched,” Tyler Kepner said.

2007 N.B.A. Finals. The master triumphed this time: Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs won his fourth title by beating the Cleveland Cavaliers in LeBron James’s first finals. Afterward, as Marc Stein notes, Duncan told James: “This is going to be your league in a little while.”

2009 W.N.B.A. Western Conference finals. Lisa Leslie, one of the league’s first stars, had come back from an injury for the Los Angeles Sparks. But Diana Taurasi and the Phoenix Mercury beat the Sparks — and Taurasi has gone on to become the league’s top scorer.


What to Cook

This vegetarian baked Alfredo pasta has it all. And check out Super Bowl recipes here.

What to Listen to

The podcast “Anything for Selena” is a biography of the singer’s life and death, as well as a meditation on her cultural legacy.

What to Read

In the nonfiction book “The Ratline,” Philippe Sands trails a high-ranking Nazi official who was never caught.

Late Night

The late-night hosts had a lot to say about Greene.

Now Time to Play

The pangram from yesterday’s Spelling Bee was outgrown. Today’s puzzle is above — or you can play online.

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: What Reddit’s fake internet points are called (five letters).

Take the News Quiz

What’s happening in the above photo? Take this week’s News Quiz, and see how you stack up against other Times readers.

Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you Monday. — David

P.S. The Times added 2.3 million digital-only subscriptions in 2020, for a total of 7.5 million subscriptions. Thank you, readers.

You can see today’s print front page here.

Today’s episode of “The Daily” is about Smartmatic’s lawsuit against Fox News. On “The Ezra Klein Show,” Yuval Levin talks about the G.O.P.’s future.

Lalena Fisher, Claire Moses, Ian Prasad Philbrick, Tom Wright-Piersanti and Sanam Yar contributed to The Morning. You can reach the team at [email protected].

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