Analysis & Opinions - The Atlantic

The Month the Pandemic Started to End

| Dec. 06, 2020

The pandemic is unfolding as if on a split screen. The winter looks bleak, but Americans can now give themselves permission to hope for a speedy vaccine rollout.

As winter descends on a country ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic, life unfolds on a split screen. On one side, the picture is bleak: Every 30 seconds, another American dies of COVID-19. The number of people infected or killed in the United States keeps outstripping the common analogies we use—a hurricane, a daily 9/11 attack, a tsunami—to express the magnitude of our national catastrophes. On Wednesday, CDC Director Robert Redfield said that the death count could reach nearly 450,000 Americans by February.

On the other side of the screen, though, the news is startling: The pandemic is beginning to end. On Wednesday, the United Kingdom granted emergency authorization for the widespread use of the first vaccines, and in the United States, the FDA is expected to do the same soon. A day earlier, the CDC finalized recommendations that would direct the first shots to health-care workers and seniors in long-term-care facilities. On Friday, states submitted their requests for vaccine doses based on the CDC’s criteria. State officials have been finalizing their plans for the vaccine’s so-called last mile—that is, how it gets from distribution sites into Americans’ arms. Some people will be vaccinated very soon, and most by the summer or fall of 2021.

The moral imperative now is to get vaccination done quickly. The new year will usher in a rolling recovery, in which relief will move in waves across the nation. The entire time, Americans may struggle to maintain their composure—as the inevitable snafus happen; as healthy working-age adults who are eager to resume their pre-pandemic lives realize that tens or hundreds of millions of people are ahead of them in the vaccine line; as the pandemic goes on killing, day after day.

The United States is about to undergo a vaccination campaign at a speed never before attempted, and Americans aren’t used to seeing public policy scale up this quickly. In the short term, the rollout of the vaccine will be constrained by how quickly pharmaceutical companies can manufacture it. Public policy will have to address four other distinct challenges: the need for public agencies to determine which groups get the vaccine first; varying demand for it, due to deep misgivings about it in some quarters and outright propagandizing against it in others; the difficulties of mass-distributing vaccines that need to be kept at temperatures as low as –70 degrees Celsius; and the data-management challenge of keeping track of who has and hasn’t been vaccinated....

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Kayyem, Juliette.“The Month the Pandemic Started to End.” The Atlantic, December 6, 2020.

The Author

Juliette Kayyem Headshot