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Analysis: Michigan vaccine rebuff puts Biden and a top ally in a dicey political spot

Agonizing trade-offs have long characterized the emergency, none more so than the one between public health and economic well-being that was crushed by the lockdowns needed to stem successive tides of infection. But the speeding vaccine program that has become a political shield for the President will not spare him from possibly damaging dilemmas like the one involving a swing state that helped pave his way to the White House.

The political dimension of this episode, coupled with fierce debate about the wisdom of a vaccine surge as hospitals fill up, mean the Great Lakes State’s plight has become the most discordant moment in Biden’s so far smooth steering of the US assault on the virus.

Michigan’s suffering also offers a glaring warning of the capacity of a pernicious viral variant first discovered in the United Kingdom to exploit fatigue with social distancing and businesses’ desire to escape commerce-choking restrictions. Michigan has reported more than 9,600 cases of Covid-19 on Sunday and Monday, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services.

But despite its dire situation, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky explained in frank terms that the time vaccinated patients need to build immunity requires the rejection of Whitmer’s pleas.

“If vaccines go in arms today, we will not see an effect of those vaccines, depending on the vaccine, for somewhere between two to six weeks,” Walensky said at a White House briefing on Monday.

“So when you have an acute situation, an extraordinary number of cases like we have in Michigan, the answer is not necessarily to give vaccine. In fact, we know that the vaccine will have a delayed response.”

‘Close things down’

Walensky’s alternative prescription for quelling the new wave of virus was likely to be even more unwelcome for Whitmer, who endured months of intimidation and even a kidnap plot as conservatives demanded she open her state. Over the weekend, the governor — who faces reelection next year — asked Michiganders to voluntarily observe two weeks of voluntary restrictions on activities like indoor dining and youth sports in a sign that new lockdowns are politically unsustainable for her.

But Walensky suggested that Michigan should “really close things down, to go back to our basics, to go back to where we were last spring, last summer, and to shut things down, to flatten the curve, to decrease contact with one another.” While it is not surging vaccine to Michigan, the White House is sending therapeutics, more testing materials and medical professionals to more efficiently administer its existing vaccine allocation.

While advice to shutter states may be scientifically justified, they are now even more likely to be in vain given widespread public Covid-19 fatigue, and the fact that millions of vaccinated Americans are already beginning to reclaim their freedoms. The kind of central government ordered shutdown lasting months from which the UK is beginning to emerge, for instance, has long seemed incompatible with the American creed of individualism and personal freedom — even in Democratic-run states.

Many state governors, like the Republicans who run Texas and Florida, have long chafed at CDC recommendations and responded to an easing of the winter Covid-19 case load by swiftly opening for business. They are showing no sign of changing their minds even as Washington’s warnings of a surge in cases of more infectious new variants materialize.

The unequivocal message from Walensky does validate one promise Biden made on assuming the Oval Office: to depoliticize the fight against the pandemic. It’s not clear whether Donald Trump would have made a similar decision given his track record as a President who loved to bestow favors on swing states and political friends, and then claim the credit.

The case against surging vaccines to Michigan is not just rooted in the maximum six-week delay until people acquire full immunity. The current…

Read More: Analysis: Michigan vaccine rebuff puts Biden and a top ally in a dicey political spot

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