Virginia National Guard response to the COVID-19 pandemic via Wikimedia Commons


Any epidemic can be suppressed. All it takes is a series of rational, well-coordinated steps and the will. We haven’t seen this yet.

The coronavirus, Covid-19, emerged on the world stage one year ago. Since then, it has killed approximately 2.3 million people, including 460,000 in the United States. These tolls continue unabated, with 24,000 Americans and 100,000 people worldwide dying of Covid-19 in the past week alone. Effective action against this scourge is long overdue.

There are two ways to stop the pandemic: isolation of carriers and mass vaccination. Neither strategy has been implemented effectively in any Western country with which I am familiar. The results have been catastrophic.

Here is what needs to be done.

Any epidemic can be suppressed, even if no vaccines are available, by isolating its carriers. The virus is an organism. It is perishable. It needs to reproduce faster than it dies or it will go extinct. It will only succeed in surviving if, on average, each infected person infects at least one other person. If the batting average for the virus—known as R-naught (R0)—exceeds 1, cases will rise exponentially. If R-naught is less than 1, the pandemic will just as quickly collapse. How do we get R-naught below 1? The answer is simple: isolate carriers.

The authorities in most Western countries were not oblivious to this countermeasure. But their attempts to implement it have been largely ineffective, because their criteria for isolating people have been whether they are “essential” or not, rather than whether they are carriers or not.

To isolate carriers, they must be identified, and not after they become symptomatic, but as soon as possible. To do that requires mass testing. No such program has been attempted in any major Western nation. To the contrary, testing has been limited to those who are symptomatic and those who suspect they have been exposed to a carrier of the disease. That won’t do at all. If we wish to drive the virus to extinction, we need to go hunting for it, actively seeking to find and isolate carriers before their viral passengers have a chance to reproduce. In short, we need to test the bulk of the population on a time scale faster than the virus’ reproductive cycle.

Testing the entire employed workforce once per week would do the job. Government authorities have recoiled from any such program, no doubt because it would be an impossibly heavy lift for them. Currently, the United States is averaging about 1.5 million tests per day. Official test sites are nearly fully booked. To test the entire US workforce once per week would require 20 million tests per day; 30 million if it had to be done during weekdays. There is no way this could be done by the official testing system.

But employers themselves could do it easily. Fast tests are now available. They can be administered with minimal technical competence, and they provide results within 20 minutes. Any employer, big or small, could assign ten percent of its workforce to test itself and the other 90 percent. They could get the job done in the first hour of the work week and send any carriers home—or to an official test site for confirmation—by 9:00 a.m. Monday morning. This would make workplaces safer, and it would do much more. It would increase the virus’s casualty rate.  If all employers were to do it, the virus would go extinct.

Note that while the virus continues to infect large numbers of new people, it is doing so at a roughly constant rate. It infects about the same number today as it did last November. It is not growing exponentially. I note this not to minimize the threat, but to point out the virus’s vulnerability. Because it is not growing exponentially, R-naught is right now very close to 1. Were we to hit it hard with a mass testing program, we could knock it well below 1 and wipe it out. But we need to do this now, before it mutates.

The complaint that there isn’t enough testing gear right now to implement such a program is feckless nonsense. Allow people to place their orders, and producers will line up to make the stuff pretty damn quick.

Rather than pursue such a program, however, authorities have stood in the way. The Food and Drug Administration has blocked or stalled the use of testing kits, many of which were quickly developed by universities or hospitals within weeks of the initial outbreak. When finally it approved some tests, it did so with the proviso that they be employed only by officially approved testing sites. Employers have effectively been banned from using fast testing kits to protect their workforces. Technical reports published by the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention do not even mention the possibility of implementing such a program.

This is exactly the opposite of what needs to happen. Instead of blocking employer testing, national governments should be doing everything in their power to mobilize it. They could even subsidize it. Providing test equipment to every employer could be done for a small fraction of the funds to be appropriated as part of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill. But government funding is probably unnecessary. Every employer I know would jump at a chance to implement an in-house fast testing program as soon as it is allowed, because the costs of a workplace infection are so much greater.

The complaint that there isn’t enough testing gear right now to implement such a program is feckless nonsense. Allow people to place their orders, and producers will line up to make the stuff pretty damn quick.

Note that creating a capability for mass testing is essential regardless of the success of the vaccines against current Covid-19 strains. Covid-19 and other viruses are constantly mutating into new forms, some of which might eventually be proof against the vaccines. No pandemic, on the other hand, can be proof against effective isolation of its carriers.


The other approach to fighting the virus is through vaccines. The world scientific community has come through triumphantly for humanity, developing highly effective vaccines to fight Covid-19 in record time. Indeed, with the aid of the virus’s genetic sequence, provided by Chinese scientists, Moderna developed its vaccine within two days in January, 2020. Several more companies had vaccines ready for testing by spring.

But the authorities managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of this incredible victory by treating the vaccines as if they were commercially promising cures for baldness, not emergency measures to save millions of lives. Instead of putting the vaccines to work straight away after quick safety tests, they subjected them to six months of extended safety testing, followed by six months of efficacy testing. A case can be made for safety testing, but this can be done quickly. All you need to do is administer the drug to a thousand people. Allergic and other negative reactions will generally show up within weeks. The FDA insisted on a much longer two-phase safety testing program. Even so, this was completed in July 2020. By then, 680,000 people had died around the globe. The vaccines should have been immediately authorized at that point. Instead, the FDA chose to subject them to extended effectiveness testing.

The vaccine has already been administered to more than a million people in the United Kingdom. It is all the more crazy because the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine can be produced much faster and at a fifth the cost of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. It is widely licenced for production…. Yet the FDA is blocking it. Why?

To test a preventative medicine like a vaccine for efficacy takes time. You need to administer the drug to a large group, and a placebo to a comparable group, then wait to discover how many of the placebo group come down with the disease compared to those given the vaccine. It’s fine to do this sort of thing if you want to make an official assessment of a manufacturer’s claims about the efficacy of his toothpaste against tooth decay. It is absolutely barking mad nuts to conduct these studies and stall the use of a lifesaving vaccine during an out-of-control pandemic that is killing millions.

Not only did the FDA do this, it is still doing it—even though 2.3 million are now dead, and virus variants are emerging right and left from a massive, infected host population. Particularly outrageous has been the FDA’s decision to delay approval of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine until April to finish a study involving 30,000 people.

The vaccine has already been administered to more than a million people in the United Kingdom. It is all the more crazy because the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine can be produced much faster and at a fifth the cost of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. It is widely licenced for production. It has been shown to be effective after just one dose (notwithstanding a recent South African test, involving only 42 people, that raised questions about its efficacy against the strain). It even stops people from transmitting the disease. Yet the FDA is blocking it. Why?

Note that it would not be the first time the FDA’s lack of alacrity has cost countless lives: Hundreds of thousands of Americans died because the FDA held up approval of effective anti-AIDS drugs for years, even though they had proven effective in Europe.


As The Cosmopolitan Globalist has noted previously, Europe’s response to the pandemic has been no better. Before the coronavirus, European health policy was in the hands of national governments. In the summer of 2020, Brussels took charge of vaccine procurement. Member states were free to opt out of the scheme, but none did. Europe’s procurement program has been a disaster. The process lacked all urgency and expertise. Orders were placed late. Instead of prioritizing the speed and security of vaccine supplies, the EU worried about the price. It succeeded in negotiating a better deal for the vaccines than the US, paying 24 percent less for the Pfizer vaccine and 45 percent less for the Oxford/AstraZeneca. But the EU’s frugality is evidence of innumeracy at the highest level: The manufacturers have prioritized shipments to countries that paid the full price. With every day the pandemic continues, European economies lose far more than any small savings the negotiators might have achieved—and this is to say nothing of the loss of life. So far, only three percent of the EU’s citizens have received their first dose.

Bruno Maçães, Portugal’s former Europe minister, aptly describes Europe’s lethal complacency:

The contrast with the health calamity in the United States made European officials forget that the pandemic was in fact a state of emergency requiring a decisive approach to vaccination. Instead, most believed that vaccines would eventually be needed to root out the problem, but the process could be conducted against the background of a waning pandemic, at least in Europe. There was no urgency in signing the necessary contracts with the most promising manufacturers, with protracted haggling over prices further delaying the process.

We now know that time was of critical importance and that the sooner procedures could be tested and perfected, the sooner a high yield of vaccine doses could be expected. The lack of urgency was also reflected in the attempt to bring a number of exogenous considerations into the process. For many months the European Union seemed more interested in scoring political points on solidarity, market power and negotiating clout than in focusing laser-like on the task at hand: getting as many vaccines as fast as possible into the arms of its citizens.

This is a pandemic. The people charged with defending the public from mass death need to think—and not just think, but think fast.

Let’s take the FDA’s excuse at face value. They say they are simply following standard procedure. Standard procedure can be a very fine thing to have. It works splendidly in ensuring everyone pays the same price for bus tickets. But consider the following dialogue:

Fighter Pilot: Hot Dog to Base. Enemy bombers approach New York. Request permission to engage.

Base: Hold your horses there, Hot Dog. We need to file an environmental impact statement with the EPA before we can authorize anything. Engagement with enemy aircraft is at least six months out.

No matter how good and numerous its fighter planes might be, any air defense system would fail completely were it saddled with such a command-and-control system. Like enemy aircraft, a virus can move fast. In any form of combat, be it a boxing match or a dogfight, you need to move at least as fast as your opponent if you’re to have any chance of defending yourself. Having regulatory agencies like the FDA and the European Medicines Agency in command of pandemic defense makes as much sense as having the Environmental Protection Agency in command of air raid defense. These are the wrong types of organization for the job.

Negotiating a deal for vaccinations the way you negotiate a fisheries treaty for Brexit (and using the very same people to negotiate) is just as insane. Wolfgang Münchau correctly described the vaccine procurement policy as the worst error the EU had ever made. “The EU’s DNA is that of a producers’ cartel. Its priority is not to secure supplies, but reduce costs and achieve some balance between French and German interests. Triangulation is what Brussels does for a living. Whatever-it-takes is not part of its culture.”

There is no excuse for not taking these actions immediately. There are literally hundreds of millions of lives at stake. Unless we stop the virus, now, mutant strains will outflank our vaccines.

Western countries lack properly-constituted civil defense organizations charged with pandemic defense and endowed with the required command structure. They lack employees who are mentally equipped to act quickly. The only competent authorities in Western countries who could deal with this situation are the chief executives. President Biden, for example, must cease deferring to the FDA on pandemic defense. He is the president, so the buck stops with him. He has the power to overrule the FDA, authorize the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and any other vaccine immediately. He must do this, or hundreds of thousands will needlessly die.


Then there is the issue of production. The Pfizer vaccine was developed with company cash, so it is private intellectual property. But Moderna’s vaccine development effort was paid for by American taxpayers, so the federal government owns the rights.

Moderna is a very innovative company. It deserves great credit for its development of a highly effective vaccine against Covid-19 in two days in January, 2020. But the pharmaceutical industry is worth US$  1.3 trillion, and in this ecosystem, Moderna is a shrimp among whales. Moderna’s total revenue from drug sales was US$ 187 million in 2019. Here is a list of the top twenty American pharmaceutical companies. Roche, at the top, brought in US$ 48 billion in revenues in 2019. At the bottom is Biogen with $11.3 billion. Collectively, these twenty companies possess thousands of times Moderna’s production capacity. Merck alone, which has abandoned its vaccine development effort, has 200 times Moderna’s drug production capacity.

Instead of waiting months or years for little Moderna to produce its—or rather our—vaccine in sufficient quantities to meet the emergency, the Biden Administration should license it to Merck and to every other qualified company who can produce it, then put in massive orders. The US government could, and should, declare the Moderna vaccine to be public domain, allowing the huge generic drug industry to produce it worldwide in vast quantities. Indeed, Moderna has already volunteered:

Moderna will not enforce our COVID-19 related patents against those making vaccines intended to combat the pandemic. Further, to eliminate any perceived IP barriers to vaccine development during the pandemic period, upon request we are also willing to license our intellectual property for COVID-19 vaccines to others for the post pandemic period.

There is no excuse for not taking these actions immediately. There are literally hundreds of millions of lives at stake. Unless we stop the virus, now, mutant strains will outflank our vaccines.

As General Douglas MacArthur said, “The history of the failure of war can almost be summed up in two words: Too late.”

We must not continue to be too late.

Robert Zubrin—@robert_zubrin—is an aerospace engineer, the founder of the Mars Society and the president of Pioneer Astronautics. His latest book, The Case for Space: How the Revolution in Spaceflight Opens Up a Future of Limitless Possibility, was recently published by Prometheus Books.


  1. Very informative. I think you’re a little too pessimistic about the adenovirus-vector vaccines. We will hear about the J&J vaccine any day now; if it’s effective at one dose it would be the greatest thing since sliced bread. The AZ vaccine is (as of now a two dose vaccine). Sadly, AZ screwed up their Phase III trial so no one really knows what the most efficacious first dose is.

    It is true that the adenovirus vector can probably only be given once, but depending on the durability of protection this might not be a problem. If it protects for a decade or more (which is possible but not certain) there’s no need to worry about whether the vector can only be administered once.

    Another advantage to the adenovirus vaccines is that long term (or semi long term) safety data is available. While the mRNA vaccines are literally brand new, J&J uses the exact same technology in its Covid vaccine that it uses in its Ebola vaccine. Around 1 million J&J Ebola vaccines have been delivered in Africa with practically no safety issues. The mRNA vaccines are almost certainly safe, but it’s hard to know for sure.

    There’s a third vaccine technology that wasn’t mentioned (unless I missed it)-the protein based vaccines. Novavax has one and so does Sanofi (working in partnership with GSK). Basically they provide immunity by exposing the immune system to synthetically manufactured spike protein. These vaccines tend to be weaker so they are paired with chemicals called adjuvants which make the immune system hyper vigilant. The new Shingles vaccine (Shingrix) is this type of vaccine.

    Mutation of the virus is something to worry about but not panic about. Most (not all) produce immunity not by priming the immune system to recognize the entire spike protein but by priming the immune system to recognize a part of the spike protein called the receptor binding domain (the part of spike protein which chemically attached itself to the ACE2 receptor found ubiquitously on cells in the human lung, nasal passages and bowel). The receptor binding domain is probably somewhat less likely to mutate.

    What regulatory agencies have gotten wrong is the emphasis on development of symptomatic disease as the primary end point in the trials. I think it makes much more sense to focus on whether the vaccines prevent severe disease, hospitalization or death. After all, if the vaccines turn a deadly disease into the sniffles, that would be pretty good.

    Claire is right; the United States is ideally suited to vaccinating the world. In fact our country has played the most important role in vaccine development. While Claire can’t bring herself to admit it, the Trump Administration’s Operation Warp Speed was a brilliant and unparalleled success. Most (not Pfizer) companies in the West with the most promising vaccines took warp speed money.

    It also pays to remember that the only reason that the world is blessed with a viable and dynamic pharmaceutical and biotech industry is because American patients pay almost all the freight for R&D. Almost every successful pharmaceutical company in the world undertakes the remarkably risky research needed to produce new medicines because most of their profit comes from prices paid by Americans. If Pharma ha to rely on drug prices paid by Europeans, Canadians, Australians and all the nations in Asia, the business would not be profitable enough to justify the risks. In this sense, Claire, Americans are already footing the Bill for almost all Covid vaccine discovery efforts.

    Last year, the House of Representatives passed a Bill which would have severely restricted drug prices. Speaker Pelosi was a fierce advocate of the Bill. In the Senate, a less onerous but still destructive Bill was introduced.

    This was one case where gridlock proved to be a great thing. Does anyone think we would have gotten Covid vaccines (not to mention new antibody treatments) so rapidly if the Pharmaceutical industry had tens of billions of dollars in reduced revenues?

    As for getting shots in the arm, most American States have failed miserably. So have all European nations (with the possible exception of the UK). The only country getting it right is Israel. As of today, Israel is offering vaccines to citizens aged 40 and up. Maybe our leaders should call Benjamin Netanyahu for advice.

    • Claire Berlinski | January 21, 2021 at 10:04 pm | Reply

      Yes, they should.

      • I have seen it suggested that Israel’s success with its vaccination roll out is because it’s a small country with a relatively centralized health care system. Actually in population Israel is only slightly smaller than Belgium, around the same size as Greece, Hungary and Austria and larger than Ireland, Denmark, Slovenia or Bulgaria. Israel leaves these nations in the dust when it comes to vaccines administered.

        One question our cosmopolitan globalist friends may want to think about is whether there’s something in the nature of large governmental bureaucracies (like the EU) which render them less nimble and thus less effective at administering vaccines.

        In the United States we suffer from bureaucratic sclerosis at both the Federal and the State levels. While private sector experts delivered in record time a technological achievement (the vaccine) almost unprecedented since the moon landing government experts (who work for government agencies or advise these agencies from their perch at universities) have delivered failure after failure. The calamity with vaccine administration was preceded first by the failure to approve reliable Covid testing to the debacle in recommending the wearing of masks. These failures were not the fault of politicians of either party; they were failures of the expert class that Government relies on, especially public health experts.

        What Israel did was administer vaccines strictly by age group (with allowances made for comorbidities). Extra doses when available were given first come first serve regardless of age.

        Compare this with the the problematic American roll out. Here the idea was to vaccinate frontline health care workers and first responders before anyone else regardless of age. This might have made sense last March; it no longer does. Adequate supplies of PPP and current infection control techniques means these workers actually have a relatively low risk, not a high risk, of contracting Covid compared to the background population.

        Then there was the laudable desire to vaccinate minority populations who had born the brunt of Covid, especially in urban centers. Sadly, this approach has turned into a tragedy for these minority populations.

        Many states (including New York, Michigan, Massachusetts, California and others) followed recommendations formulated by CDC’s “expert” academic advisors to vaccinate grocery store cashiers before patients with severe comorbidities.

        That means a 20 year old African American cashier will get vaccinated before her 63 year old grandfather suffering from poorly controlled Type II diabetes (which is epidemic in older African American people). The 20 year old has virtually no chance of dying from Covid and a very low chance of getting severe disease. Her grandfather, who may have had a leg amputated, probably has protein in his urine (a sign of impending kidney disease) and also probably has coronary artery disease can’t get a vaccine for months after his granddaughter because he doesn’t qualify. That grandfather probably is 100 times more likely to die of Covid than his granddaughter. For reasons I find bewildering, our academic experts don’t seem to care.

        But it’s worse than that. The 20 year old grocery cashier who gets her second vaccine will be asymptomatic if she’s exposed to SARS-CoV-2. Remember, we don’t know if the vaccines provide sterilizing immunity. What’s the result? The vaccinated young cashier won’t know that she’s harboring the virus. Because she doesn’t feel sick, she may not hesitate to go visit her grandfather. It doesn’t take much imagination to imagine the tragic results.

        Israel did it right; the United States is doing it tragically wrong. The number of unnecessary deaths resulting from the stupidity of our brilliant expert overlords is truly staggering.

        • Claire Berlinski | January 22, 2021 at 9:09 am | Reply

          The problem is not large bureaucratic governments per se–China has done brilliantly at containing the virus–but large, *stupid* bureaucratic governments. The diagnosis–“big government is always bad”–does not seem correct to me. Nothing but a big government can handle certain tasks, among them warfare and a vaccination campaign on this scale. Israel’s vaccination campaign certainly wasn’t a private-sector accomplishment. But Israel’s bureaucracy is more competent than other Western bureaucracies. The incompetence of our governments, not their size, is the problem.

          • Here’s something for those with a globalist perspective to reflect on. As of two days ago, the UK had administered 8 times as many vaccine doses per capita as the EU as a whole.

            British regulators approved the mRNA vaccines in record time; the EU Medicines Agency dawdled. The UK has already approved the AZ adenovirus vaccine; the European Medicines Agency hasn’t (nor has the FDA) even though it is clearly safe and efficacious (at least to some degree).

            As much as cosmopolitan globalists may detest Brexit, when it comes to Covid at least, there are now thousands of British citizens who have been vaccinated and thus won’t get sick or die because the UK exited the EU in the Nick of time.

            But for Brexit, it is likely that when it comes to vaccination, the UK would be performing as horribly as the rest of Europe.

          • Claire Berlinski | January 24, 2021 at 11:24 am |

            Yes, and that alone is sufficient to justify Brexit, but the larger picture is comprehensive Western failure–and Britain has done only marginally better. The ramifications of this just don’t seem to be dawning on people.

            Martin Jacques is a lifelong communist who is now almost an unofficial spokesman for the CCP. He’s also a very intelligent and serious scholar. What he says in this video is correct: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OoBTenUxUWY&feature=youtu.be

            2020 was a watershed year and a test of liberal democracy’s ability to cope with a massive and unforeseen crisis. Liberal democracy failed. I don’t quite understand why Westerners don’t grasp the significance of this. Brexit v. Remain is a trivial debate; the debate is now liberal democracy versus socialism with Chinese characteristics. The West’s failure has been to liberal democracy what Chernobyl was to Soviet communism–only vastly, vastly more damaging and consequential.

          • Claire Berlinski | January 24, 2021 at 11:33 am |

            Another video from Jacques: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K6ptkgaFEFU. It makes no sense for any Western country to compare itself to another Western country; what’s been challenged by the pandemic is the idea of individual rights and limited government. It’s not just China that has excelled: Most of East Asia has done just as well. So this doesn’t vindicate Chinese-style authoritarianism. But something is clearly totally dysfunctional in Western society: “Individual rights” have come to be understood as a suicide pact.

          • If you think that alone justifies Brexit your an idiot. Anyways the actual death rate from Covid-19 is still much higher in the UK than in the rest of the EU except perhaps Sweden. What really bothers from the perspective of someone like myself who is 37 is there is this huge clique of people(What I call the 1989 generation) starting in the early 50’s like Claire and I suspect like WigWam who pray every night at the alter of Margaret Thatcher who in my opinion as history has shown was a total loser as Donald Trump would say. Thatcher in fact it turned out didn’t want the Berlin Wall to come when push came to shove and in fact was incandescent with rage at Reagan’s Brandenberg Gate “Tear Down this Wall” speech in front of Helmut Kohl. This was all covered up by the smooth Oxford and Cambridge trained civil servants that were horrified that America and Reagan/Bush would find out and shred there most beloved UK-US special relationship.

            What is really funny is that for all of Thatcher’s “success” in turning around the British economy after 1979 that Claire describes in her biography of Thatcher she and Great Britain were in no position to offer a competing financial arrangement to what Helmut Kohl and the FRG where offering to Gorbachev and the USSR to carry out Glasnost(Nor was btw the HW Bush’s US but you could at least say Britain that was supposed to be “back” as a major European power under Thatcher would have at least taken up some interest).

            What Thatcher I would give credit for understanding is a lot of people including herself after 1945 had as PBS’ Commanding Height’s documentary pointed out little interest in the FRG’s post 1945 economic miracle(The Nazi’s would always by the Nazi’s) so instead after 1979 Thatcher came up with her own economic miracle that was far less consequential than Erhard’s in late 1940s Germany. In fact without Erhard the entire “West” may have also gone irrevocably toward a “mixed” economic model after 1945. Yet to this day far more people are interested in buying books about Thatcher than Ludwig Erhard.

            The line about no one wanting to model themselves on West Germany comes at 3:50 in the video below.


          • And again in the 1970s the West might again have gone irrevocably towards a “mixed model” again of universal price and wage controls except in the FRG Helmut Schmidt a SPD Chancellor stuck to Erhard’s ideological opposition to price control and let energy prices in W Germany dictated by market conditions climb until they eventually “peaked” in the late 1970s leading I would argue indirectly to the Reagan/Thatcher economic booms in the US and UK whereas if the West stuck to a Carter/Callahan system of price controls we could still be stuck in price controls and rationing to this day. That is Schmidt’s legacy not Thatcher’s.

          • Something else I want to add is the UK is currently at a record of 18 deaths per million people and increasing right now. This is WAY above the death rates in other major countries like the US, Canada, and Germany.

          • Claire Berlinski | January 25, 2021 at 6:52 am |

            Yes. And no one is drawing the conclusions they should from this; to wit, that the new mutation is even more lethal. Unless the pace of vaccination massively steps up–*and* strict confinement measures enacted, *now*–exactly the same thing will happen, within weeks, on the Continent and in the US. And neither of those things will happen until it’s too late.

            We’ve seen this over and over. Western countries refuse to learn from each others’ experiences, preferring instead to congratulate themselves for doing slightly-less-badly than each other. If it’s happening in Britain, people conclude, it’s because Britain somehow deserved it.

            Over and over. People in the US speculated that the catastrophe in Lombardy was “owed to Italy’s bad health care system” (ignoring that Italy’s healthcare system outranks the US system on almost every measure). I was frantic–I did everything I could to warn Americans that this was insane and they needed to go into lockdown immediately, but obviously no one listened. Europe was just as stupid and arrogant: When Czechs were hammered in the fall, no one in Europe saw this as a warning! People thought, “We beat this thing, unlike those stupid Americans–time to open the borders and go back to the restaurants!”

            And I see it again now: The UK variant will slaughter France (and the US), yet *still,* no one seems really to understand that what happens anywhere with this virus will happen to *them.* Within ten days to two months.

            The UK’s policy has been appalling–the long flirtation with the “herd immunity” fantasy allowed the virus to take deep root, which is what gave us this new, fabulous mutation.

            But not a single country in the West has a record about which it can boast. (New Zealand and Australia are in the West, politically, but their performance is much closer to Asia’s. It helps to be an island. It also helps to have intelligent leadership that takes this seriously, and I suspect proximity to Asia had a salutary influence in this regard.)

            The failures have been both governmental and societal. Governments have been crippled by lack of imagination, will, and popular legitimacy. But our societies have failed, too. This is a scene from a deeply sick and selfish society: https://twitter.com/BrendanKeefe/status/1352761740459732997

          • Claire Berlinski | January 25, 2021 at 6:08 am |

            I think you’re misunderstanding Thatcher’s views on the Berlin Wall. I believe you’re alluding to the supposedly “explosive” revelations–this was in 2009–from Soviet archives indicating that Thatcher had tried to keep the Berlin Wall from falling and secretly urged Mikhail Gorbachev to “do what he could to stop it.”

            This revelation was based on Kremlin notes, still officially classified, of a Moscow meeting between Thatcher and Gorbachev in September 1989. These and many other documents were spirited out of Russia in 2003 by Pavel Stroilov, a researcher at the Gorbachev Foundation. There was a media storm: MR. GORBACHEV, KEEP THIS WALL UP! marveled The Economist, leading the article with a breathless “WHOA.” Andrew Sullivan titled his blog entry MARGARET THATCHER, SECRET DEFENDER OF SOVIET SECURITY, declaring the news “staggering.”

            But these were mischaracterizations and misunderstandings of the Kremlin document; nothing about it was shocking in the least. First of all, it is not clear that the document is an accurate record.

            I’ve spoken with Stroilov (who grows stranger by the day) and I am sure that he’s telling the truth: he did indeed steal these papers from the Gorbachev Foundation, and that they’re indeed classified Kremlin records. Bukovsky and Gordievsky both assured me he was neither a fraud nor a fantasist.

            But the document itself stresses that at Thatcher’s request, the conversation in question wasn’t recorded. So it contains nothing more than a Kremlin apparatchik’s recollection of what she said. The Kremlin is not generally considered an unimpeachable source. Manipulating transcripts is an old Soviet trick–it’s how Stalin came to power. So the document may be true, but maybe not: You have to believe the Kremlin amanuensis recorded it faithfully, correctly remembered Thatcher’s every word, and preserved every nuance of her meaning in translation. There is no reason to accept all this uncritically.

            But let’s say we do accept it. According to the transcript, Thatcher said two shocking things: One of them was, “The reunification of Germany is not in the interests of Britain and Western Europe.” (Stroilov endorsed this translation,) But we know very well that the last thing Thatcher wanted to see was a bigger, stronger Germany–she made no secret of this; she certainly didn’t hide it from Reagan. Even a divided Germany was about twice as much Germany as she would have liked. Her opinions on the subject contributed to her political downfall. She said so at the time; she said so in her memoirs, her friends have said so, her enemies have said so, and no one has ever suggested anything else.

            The second thing Thatcher told Gorbachev, according to the transcript, was: “A destabilization of Eastern Europe and breakdown of the Warsaw Pact are also not in our interests.” Why might she have said this? Why not say instead, “We are fomenting the destruction of the Warsaw Pact in the hope of swiftly burying you?”

            Recall that in September 1989, no one imagined that within two months, the Iron Curtain would dissolve without a drop of blood. Much more easily envisioned was a Soviet crackdown and a brutal bloodletting, which had happened, within living memory, in Czechoslovakia and Hungary, and which the Chinese had just perpetrated months before in Tiananmen Square. Reasonable observers were worried that East German leader Erich Honecker was about to massacre thousands of people on the streets of Leipzig and Dresden—a step for which Honecker was preparing by stockpiling body bags. It was equally reasonable to fear that Gorbachev was on the verge of sending in Soviet troops.

            I believe Thatcher’s goal was to reassure. She was trying to buy time and keep the Soviets from panicking. No responsible politician would have told Gorbachev that she was eager for the destruction of the Warsaw Pact, particularly at a private, high-level diplomatic meeting. It would have been a provocation.

            Nothing about the revelations should change anyone’s views of Thatcher or of her role in the Cold War. She was an ardent anti-communist. She was also concerned–as *every reasonable person* was at the time–that the destabilization of the Warsaw Pact would not lead to the Eastern bloc’s liberation but to lead to chaos and industrial-scale murder. That it didn’t was a miracle. That she feared the worst suggests she was not a starry-eyed idealist, but someone who had lived through the 20th century.

          • I probably shouldn’t continue to veer violently off topic of this article but it is rare that I get to debate the legacy of Margaret Thatcher with someone who knows more about it than I do. I guess I will make a couple of points in conclusion. First it is quite true to say there were many people who were ardent anti-communists yet were extremely concerned at the loss of life and chaos that the breakup of the Warsaw pact could have caused however, I don’t think you can legitimately say anymore that Thatcher was a “more” ardent anti-communist than Helmut Kohl(or as some Thatcherite hardliners claim that Kohl was not even anti-communist at all) something most who adore Thatcher consider as religious gospel. Nor was Kohl himself acting recklessly either. Every account I have read and listened to over Kohl’s reaction to the events in 1989 show that Kohl too was very concerned at the possibility of a violent crackdown on the various protest movements occurring behind the Iron Curtain.

            Second even when she was removed from office in part over her mishandling of the events of 1989 she continued to fight a rearguard action against her successor John Major and inspired/supported action to oppose what was basically the political settlement at the European level to the re-unification of Germany through the Maastricht Treaty. What I am referring to of course are the so-called Maastricht Rebels or what John Major once called “The bastards.” This type of out of office involvement in politics by a former President say Ronald Reagan trying to lobby rank and file Republicans against the policies the George HW Bush or even a Democrat like Bill Clinton prior to Donald Trump would be considered have totally outside the norms of ex-Presidents in the US. Nor did Helmut Kohl engage in such activities out of office after 1997.

            Which brings me to my last point as to why I personally have to come to increasingly dislike Thatcher and her legacy that is she probably did more that any 1980s politician to encourage what I would call proto-Trumpism in the Western and especially English speaking world. I think there is a pretty obvious line from the Maastricht Rebels to the Tea Party and finally towards the Trumper-MAGA-ites. The German CDU under Angela Merkel is still basically the same CDU it was under Helmut Kohl while the UK Conservative Party is NOT the same as under John Major instead now being the party of the Maastricht Rebels and Bastard and the counterrevolution of Thatcher being removed from office in 1990. The US Republican Party is NOT the party of Reagan or HW Bush in part as it now views Thatcher and her revolutionary conservatism as far more appealing to the party base than anything Reagan or HW Bush had to offer.

          • In particular I would argue the Gingrich era of the US Republican Party was a pivotal turning point in the US GOP shifting away from Reagan/HW Bush towards are more partisan Thatcherite mold.

        • Before WigWam points out the incompetence of the Massachusetts govt I want to point out the friggin vaccine was invented in Massachusetts NOT Israel or West Virginia.

          • One thing I can tell you is if you receive the Moderna vaccine in Massachusetts or New Hampshire right the vaccine is actually being shipped from the two production facilities in MA and NH to Mississippi first then shipped “back” to MA and NH for patients receiving them in these two areas. This does not at all seem to be a smart logistical choice. In particular the facility in New Hampshire Moderna is using is on the grounds of a former Air Force base that still has an very long/large active runway and a NH Air National Guard base. It seems to be that some type of distribution hub should be setup there and then send the vaccines manufactured at Pease/Portsmouth, NH via air or truck depending on the distance of the distributors from New Hampshire.


          • You’re right. Moderna is headquartered in the Boston area. It’s founder is on the faculty of MIT. The hedge fund that provided most of the initial funding for the mRNA technology is located in Boston. MIT will reap a windfall off its royalties for the polymer capsule that encases the mRNA (for both the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccine). It’s not called MIT for nothing-it’s in Massachusetts too.

            All this makes it doubly ironic that the good citizens of Massachusetts have almost no access (so far) to Moderna’s vaccine. How far is Massachusetts General Hospital (perhaps the best hospital in the world) from Kendall Square? By my reckoning it’s around two miles (a short ten minute ride on the Red Line). Yet MGH is still forbidden from dispensing the vaccine to the general public.

            The Joslin Diabetes Center is in “the Medical Area.” That’s no more than five miles from where the Moderna vaccine was developed. Joslin treats thousands of Type II diabetics who are at enormous risk from Covid. Yet Joslin is still precluded from administering vaccine to elderly diabetic patients who will fare very poorly with Covid if they get it.

            How far is the Dana Farber Cancer Center from the home of the MIT labs in Kendall Square where the vaccine technology was perfected? It can’t be more that five or six miles. Yet Dana Farber is prevented by the State of Massachusetts from administering the Moderna Vaccine to 75 year old patients with metastatic breast cancer or 70 year old patients with metastatic prostate cancer.

            You know who can get the Moderna Vaccine in Massachusetts right now? A 25 year old medical resident can. A 30 year old podiatrist can. An 18 year old cashier can. The risk of serious disease or death if these folks get Covid is near zero. How can this policy make sense?

            Tim, there are a lot of really smart people in Massachusetts. Our country owes a lot the the experts who work in Boston’s Pharma and Biotech communities.

            What’s really sad is that the people calling the shots in State Government are criminally negligent. Also, they’re stupid.

          • To be fair I have not really been paying that much attention as to who is eligible for getting the vaccine as I myself will be at the end of the line. Just to give a clearer geographic picture the MA State House(where these decisions are being made) is more like a 5 minute subway ride from MIT while MGH is more like 2 minutes. The CEO of Moderna almost lives across the street from the State House in Beacon Hill and he can literally walk(a longish walk) to work. My only explanation is the MA state govt at the highest level(i.e. the governor called the CEO of Moderna) and tried to deal directly with them outside of the US Federal govts process and was turned down by Moderna(on the basis of their contract with the Federal govt) and from this point afterwards has simply pinned the blame of the Feds for any messups.

          • I just found that several key people in charge of vaccine distribution in Massachusetts state government have just been hired by Biden to work in Washington in addition to the fact that the mayor of Boston(who has a tangential role in vaccination issues) has been nominated as Biden’s Labor secretary so you can interpret this as you want.

          • Interesting. I guess Biden is rewarding them for the brilliant job they’ve done insuring death and disability for the elderly and infirm in your home state.

            Meanwhile, Israel, the nation with the highest vaccination rate (by far) in the world just announced today that starting next week, any adult 18 or older can now schedule a Covid vaccination.

        • Claire Berlinski | January 23, 2021 at 9:37 am | Reply

          We’re soon going to run a piece from one of our writers in Israel, David Hazony, explaining exactly why Israel has been so successful. It’s *very* interesting. Unfortunately, it will take a bit of time because he is, alas, recovering from Covid19 himself. (Get well soon, David!)

    • I think a lot of your points are good, and make the same essential argument made in the article–that we should use all the vaccine tools in our medical bag that we have. Except maybe the Russian one. I’ll be honest, not sure if I’d get that even if the choice was that or nothing. I would however, get any of the three Chinese vaccines; but I’d prefer one from Moderna, Pfizer, or AZ/Oxford.

      In terms Operation Warp Speed, I think the Trump Administration really does deserve kudos for that. They’ve handled many other aspects of this pandemic very poorly, but that particular one, A+. There wasn’t really a natural place for it in the article however. It may or may not show up in a future one, we’ll see.

      • Owen, It’s all hypothetical, but the vaccinologists I’ve spoken to tell me that they have more confidence in the Sputnik vaccine than Sinovac’s dead virus vaccine. But they don’t have much faith in either.

  2. Learned a lot here! Definitely interesting to learn more about Russia and China’s vaccines. Tying back to your previous pieces on China, hoping Biden agrees with you and makes the right call in his foreign policy. It’s going to be essential to show leadership here. We have a moral duty to resist Chinese hegemony so long as China is controlled by the CCP, which has proven its willingness to enslave and torture its own citizens, and as we see here, subject foreign populations to hastily-developed vaccines that they don’t trust to use on their Han majority.

  3. “ The solution is simple. The United States must finance and coordinate vaccination programs around the world. The implementation will be complicated, which is precisely why there must be a single coordinating power.”

    Finance, maybe. Coordinate, think about that some more. In the US, fifty states are conducting fifty experiments to see how vax rollout should work. Some are doing fine. Others not so well. What if the “single coordinating power” gets it wrong?

    Here’s how not to do it, as reported to me by a relative who got shot yesterday in the Bronx NY. (Vaccine shot, not street violence, the other epidemic).

    The community health center they visited requires appointments. They schedule 12 appointments for “qualified” people in a single time block apparently because there are 12 doses of vaccine in each package. They also allow walk-ins if someone doesn’t keep their appointment.

    To prevent waste of vaccine doses they won’t thaw a vial of vaccine unless they are certain they can use it all. When they have 12 people present — in the room — they proceed. If they don’t have 12 people present, they stop the process until they can find enough people to use all 12 doses.

    Imagine what happens if it takes a while to find the 12th person and someone who has made an appointment (and is present) has to go to work. Now they need to find someone to fill that slot as well.

    That’s how my relative got vaccinated. Someone who made an appointment didn’t show up. Some one who was waiting for their shot called my relative and told them to come running. Those waiting couldn’t be vaccinated until there were 12 people in the room. An hour later my relative arrived with two other people in tow. They arrived just before closing and got the vaccine.

    And that’s the other thing. The health center closed for the day at 5:00 pm. They keep normal 9 to 5 hours….even during an emergency.

    Claire, careful what you wish for. The “central coordinating power” in NYC (or state?) needs to go back to the drawing board. The system they designed isn’t working – fast enough.

    • It absolutely shocks (but at the same time not really) and disgusts me that vaccines are only being administered during normal clinic hours. I hesitate to even ask, but are they are least doing it 7 days a week?
      Vaccines should be administered everywhere as fast as they’re coming in. If that means emergency measures and funding to take on extra staff so vaccination centers can be open 24 hours as long as they have vaccines to use then it should be done.

      • Claire Berlinski | January 24, 2021 at 9:39 am | Reply

        In Germany they’re taking a leisurely Sunday off. And 24-hour vaccination centers in France? C’est à rigoler. There is something wrong with the way the West is understanding the nature of this emergency, and I don’t get what it is. Is it that the dead haven’t been stacked like cordwood in footballs stadiums for everyone to see? Is it that the 3,000 who died on September 11 form some kind of upper limit to the amount of dead the human mind can really understand, after which it’s all “a lot?” The global death toll is already incalculably much higher, with absolutely no end in sight until everyone is vaccinated. The long-term economic and political consequences of this will be so much more grave. Perhaps this only seems obvious to people who have a very particular temperament? To people who naturally think in numbers and exponents? I just don’t get it. I growingly think the West’s failure to grasp the gravity to this crisis will be understood, by historians, to mark the end of the Western era that began in the 15th century with the age of exploration. The year 2020 will be commonly known as the end of the Western era and the beginning of the Chinese era. All of our descendents will live in a Chinese world, for better or worse. This is what’s at stake. And no one really seems to understand this. Everyone is too busy comparing their own abysmal performance to other Western countries and assuring themselves that it’s perfectly normal. It’s hot. It’s a Holocaust that has revealed our societies to be morally bankrupt.

        • Yes. Sadly, the death of the West is death by suicide. The obituary will read that the weapon of self-immolation was wielded by a credulous, self-loathing, hypereducated elite.

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