Biden: “This continues to be a pandemic of the unvaccinated”

This is a bad talking point even though it’s true in an important sense.

Americans are watching Omicron run roughshod over the population, infecting everyone in sight — including the triple-vaxxed. Many of them doubtless remember Rochelle Walensky saying last year during those three weeks of optimism we had before Delta showed up that vaccinated people don’t carry the virus. That may have been true initially but it wasn’t true as immunity from the shots began to wane, and it sure ain’t true with Omicron. The boosted may be a bit less likely to catch the new variant than everyone else is, but only a bit.

Frankly, it’s the feds’ own fault that the public continues to measure vaccine efficacy in terms of preventing infection instead of severe illness or death. From the beginning, experts used case counts instead of hospitalizations as their yardstick for measuring how mild or severe an outbreak might be. And the spectacular initial data showing the vaccines were 95 percent effective against transmission of the Wuhan strain raised expectations of a return to full normalcy in which the virus would circulate at low levels in the population going forward. In that context, you can’t say “this continue to be a pandemic of the unvaccinated” and not have people think, “Have you seen the case counts lately, Joe? Vaccinated people are catching COVID by the millions.”

It’s just that they’re not dying from it. Some older and sicker vaccinated people are, weakened by their aging immune systems and the comorbidities they suffer from. But the data speaks for itself:

Biden’s summary of the outlook on Omicron at today’s photo op was accurate. “If you’re vaccinated and boosted, you are highly protected,” he said. “You know, be concerned about Omicron, but don’t be alarmed. But if you’re unvaccinated, you have some reason as to be alarmed.” Indeed. By the crucial metrics of severe illness and mortality, this is still largely a pandemic of the unvaccinated.

But to a public that’s used to thinking in terms of cases, not hospitalizations and deaths, that sounds nuts.

His message is bad in another important way. This morning I wrote about how experts’ messaging on the risk to children has been terrible from the start of the pandemic but especially since vaccines for adults became widely available. There’s no good reason to impose upon children to limit the spread of the virus when every adult in the country is eligible for three doses and shots are available at every pharmacy in America. Kids shouldn’t need to sacrifice their educations to protect their parents from infection once their parents had the tools to protect themselves from severe illness, and kids shouldn’t need to sacrifice to protect themselves from infection since they rarely get very sick from COVID. By stressing the importance of vaccinating kids, though, Biden is reinforcing the idea among parents who haven’t followed the science that there’s some dire risk to children that needs to be minimized. And a parent that’s been led to believe there’s a dire risk will be more willing to accept destructive preventative measures like school closings, further damaging their kids’ development.

The White House should be hammering the idea that it’s time for children to resume full normalcy. Recommend vaccination, sure, but not without making sure parents understand that that’s less for the child’s benefit than it is for the adults around them. And at a moment when even the vaccinated spread Omicron, it’s unclear how much vaccinating kids is doing to slow the spread. Biden did emphasize today that schools should stay open, which is good, but the “pandemic of the unvaccinated” messaging is apt to spook parents about letting their unvaccinated kids be around other children in a classroom.

My guess is that he continues to hammer this talking point even as it fades in relevance amid Omicron because his federal vaccine mandate depends on it. The more he acknowledges that Omicron has leveled the playing field between the vaxxed and unvaxxed in terms of infection, the harder it becomes to justify OSHA’s rule ordering all employees at big companies to get the shots. It’s not just the unvaccinated who can bring the virus into the workplace anymore, after all. And although the unvaccinated are more likely to suffer dire consequences if infected, it’s not normally the feds’ business to issue for-your-own-good rules to people about their personal health. If Biden’s right that the vaccinated have no reason to be “alarmed” about the new variant, and he is, then it’s hard to grasp why unvaccinated workers around them need to be jabbed.

Anyway, if you’re going to rip on him for his foolish talking point, at least save a little vitriol for this garbage-brain too, whose populism has led him to a place even most anti-vaxxers avoid. Apparently Ron Johnson is now skeptical of medicine, period.

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