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After weeks of brutal expansion, the pandemic is finally beginning to let up. The seven-day average of cases is down a third from its mid-January peak. But the U.S. needs to quickly distribute vaccines before another surge begins.
The Biden administration faces what my colleague Robinson Meyer terms “a race of vaccination versus variants.” On one side: a country trying to halt the outbreak through vaccination. On the other: a virus swiftly accumulating mutations that could allow it to move even faster.
He explains: “The winner of this race will depend on three unknowns: mitigation, evolution, and vaccine distribution.”
1. Mitigation efforts (such as social distancing)
“Those high levels of ongoing infection make the standard tools of mitigation—social distancing, masks, and work-from-home orders—even more important to avoid continued deaths. Yet the allure of vaccination is beginning to stymie mitigation policy in some places.”
2. The evolution of the virus itself
“The most immediate risk is that these new variants cause another surge of infection, and death, before mass vaccination can increase the number of Americans with protective immunity.”
3. How quickly vaccines are distributed
“The U.S.’s vaccine supply … is uneven at the moment, although the Biden administration has vowed to invoke the Defense Production Act to strengthen the supply and distribution operation.”