Editorial | A vaccine isn’t the pandemic’s magic fix

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Kaycee Orwig | Assistant Visual Editor

The United States continues to lead the world in COVID-19 deaths — surpassing the 225,000 mark on Sunday.

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

Anyone who has paid any attention to President Donald Trump’s coronavirus response — or lack thereof — has probably noticed a common theme in his rhetoric. Every time Trump is asked about curbing the increasing coronavirus caseloads, he flouts a forthcoming vaccine within the near future — as if that will solve the pandemic.

At the last debate, Trump said a vaccine was coming “within weeks.” Experts say this isn’t possible, though Dr. Anthony Fauci has said a potential vaccine could be made available by the end of December. A significant portion of the population, however, would not likely be vaccinated until at least halfway through 2021.

The truth is — as epidemiologists including Fauci have repeatedly warned — a coronavirus vaccine won’t save us. Not immediately, at least. The Trump administration needs to stop pretending this is the case and instead work to actively mitigate the coronavirus.

The United States set a case record on Friday, recording 83,757 new cases in a singular day. This is up from the previous record — 76,842 cases — in mid-July. The United States also continues to lead the world in COVID-19 deaths — surpassing the 225,000 mark on Sunday. Thirty eight states are seeing an increase in hospitalizations, and 14 states recorded record numbers of COVID-19 hospitalizations from Oct. 15 to Oct. 22.

Scientists worry that as the weather gets even colder, cases could climb higher than they are right now, and far more rapidly. The winter months are cold in many parts of the United States, which means that people will be forced to interact primarily indoors — where coronavirus is most easily spread.

“We were really hoping to crater the cases in preparation for a bad winter,” Tara Smith, a professor of epidemiology, said. “We’ve done basically the opposite.”

The Trump administration has spent the past seven months wasting time — strategizing few mitigation techniques and often bluntly disregarding science. Seven months into social distancing and mask wearing, the United States still doesn’t have a national mask mandate. It’s hard to believe that universal mask wearing is even still up for debate right now, but Trump has continued to downplay the importance of mask wearing, leaving many of his supporters to do the same. Scientists predict that if all Americans wear masks, the United States could prevent 120,000 deaths by spring.

The Trump administration should be looking for ways to curb viral spread. At the very least, it should be listening to science, implementing a mask mandate and not holding rallies. Countries in Europe managed to curb the virus spread over the summer, and though many are also facing a fall and winter wave right now, they’re in a far better place than the United States. It’s beyond irresponsible and dangerous to just wait for a vaccine.

And even when a vaccine is out for distribution, not everyone will have immediate access. The most vulnerable populations will go first. Some scientists are warning healthy young people that they might not be vaccinated until 2022. This means that mask wearing and distancing will be in effect until at least then, and we won’t see any resemblance of pre-pandemic normalcy for quite some time. It’s also likely that one dose of the coronavirus vaccine won’t be enough for protection, and the vaccine in its full capacity may only lessen symptoms.

Looking at a vaccine as the “savior” of the pandemic is bluntly wrong. It’s misinformation. At this rate, some scientists are expecting U.S. deaths to reach 400,000 by February 2021 — and now is the time to act to curb this. The Trump administration can’t stop all the deaths, but it can certainly do something other than sit on its hands.

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