Should we focus the vaccine on those over 65? Seems like a good idea

I’ve become convinced that creating a short term of goal of vaccinating all Americans over 65 by a certain date — let’s say the middle of April — is something the Biden Administration should seriously consider.

The health benefits are clear. Seniors are the part of our population most likely to be hospitalized and die. Prioritizing over 65s will save the most lives. Keeping people out of the hospital will also save a lot of money, and allow hospitals to go more on offense against COVID and delayed health care needs. It will also give our beleaguered health care professionals a desperately needed respite (here’s another good essay on why this is a good idea from the Washington Post).

Getting “seniors vaccinated” also allows us to have a big collective win against COVID, something that may be psychologically important for a country eager for a clear victory against the pandemic. As it would come in the spring, it would contribute to a nationwide sense of renewal, of a return to possibility. It will help create a sense of “yes we can” momentum which will help us as the vaccine program scales up later in the spring.

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By creating a dialog now around an entire class of people getting vaccinated, it will also force the public health system and our governments to begin to learn how to deal with vaccine hesitancy. With about 30% of the country now in some degree of vaccine resistance, we will have to learn how to bring some significant portion of those people along this year if we want true herd immunity. Not just for the current vaccine program, but also for any future booster campaigns which may be coming later this year or early next. A mass education/persuasion effort, with a robust citizen to citizen component, will be needed at some point. The earlier we get on with addressing the concerns of the hesitant the earlier we are likely to bring a true end to COVID.

Developing a viable one shot option may be critical to tackling vaccine hesitancy this year. Whether it is getting the Johnson & Johnson one shot deployed as soon as possible, or deciding on whether those who’ve already had COVID only need a single dose of the two shot options, creating a clear one shot option is likely to be important in tackling the hesitancy challenge. It is something every state should be exploring and thinking about now.

Finally, I think we have to start to see the defeat of COVID as a big national project, one that in a time of extraordinary division can bring the country together around a common goal, and eventually, a common achievement. The President should consider being far more explicit about launching a national campaign to “Defeat COVID” which elected officials, community leaders and everyday people can join in on. When the story is written about our experience with this pandemic, what a blessing it would be for this diverse nation for the story to be about how the American people came together in this time of crisis and worked together, successfully, to defeat a common enemy. It would be a shame if we only ended up giving credit to the vaccine companies, or health care workers — as vital as their role as been. I think for the good of the body politic we should seek to craft a different story, one of unity and achievement, of common purpose and common good, a big thing we all did together.

For once we defeat COVID something this summer, we have to then focus on defeating it throughout the world, and making sure it stays defeated in the months and years to come. For only when COVID is defeated globally will it be defeated here in the US. And that collective endeavor may not just bring America together, but also the world; and give all of us, for a few years at least, a sense that we are, no matter where we live, truly all in this together.

Given the trauma COVID has brought, ending its run with a global sense of common purpose and achievement, of ”we are all in this together, aren’t we?” after years of being apart would be a remarkable thing indeed.

Let’s start by getting all our seniors here in the US vaccinated by April 15th.

I run NDN/NPI, a DC think tank. Clinton & DNC alum, Tufts grad, Aspen Crown Fellow. Father of 3 great kids, truly lucky husband. Proud globalist.

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