The Left’s Vaccine Problem

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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.

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

Alaska and West Virginia and 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.”

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 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.

  • 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.

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.

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.

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).

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