Dr. Marc Siegel: Biden, COVID vaccine and unity – this what Americans need to hear from their leader

Many more steps need to be taken before people who follow the guidelines feel fully liberated.

On the 99th day of his administration, President Biden appeared before a joint session of Congress and talked of Americans achieving goals together "with the overwhelming support of the American people."

And yet, his words were once again self-congratulatory: "We will have provided over 220 million COVID shots in 100 days. We’re marshaling every federal resource. We’ve gotten the vaccine to nearly 40,000 pharmacies and over 700 community centers."

But Biden failed to mention that the contract for those 40,000 pharmacies was put together by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar under the prior administration.

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And instead of giving credit to his predecessor for the unprecedented speed of bringing these vaccines to market without sacrificing the science, instead, the president focused on the fact that when he was sworn in, "less than 1% of seniors were fully vaccinated against COVID-19, 100 days later, nearly 70% of seniors are fully protected. Senior deaths from COVID-19 are down 80% since January… And more than half of all adults in America have gotten at least one shot."

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Here again, though the Biden administration certainly deserves congratulations for the massive vaccination rollout that promises to end the pandemic over the next few months.

At the same time, for the sake of unity he should have acknowledged that the initial delays in ramp up of the MRNA vaccines had much more to do with Pfizer and Moderna plants manufacturing a new fragile product carefully, rather than governmental disorganization. In fact, we have seen the same kind of delays and difficulties (even more) with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine under the new administration.

The president’s most unifying comments about vaccination came when he told the story of the mass vaccination center in Glendale, Arizona, where a nurse told him that "every shot feels like a dose of hope." Biden spoke about an educator who has a child who suffers from an auto-immune disease. She wrote to the president that she was worried about bringing the virus home. "When she got vaccinated, she sat in her car and just cried."

"Choosing hope over fear," the president said, though he continued to wear a mask even when alone out of doors post-vaccination.

This is an important message that has been lost about the COVID vaccines, in part because public health leaders have been too slow to acknowledge that the vaccines markedly decrease your chances of not only not becoming ill but also not spreading the virus to others. A major purpose of vaccination is to protect others by making yourself into an immune barrier to spread.

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"Choosing hope over fear," the president said, though he continued to wear a mask even when alone out of doors post-vaccination. And certainly there has been far too much fear messaging about the continued need for masks even when you are fully vaccinated under certain defined conditions.

Finally this week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledged that a vaccinated person doesn’t require a mask outside, and CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky described to me the liberating feeling of removing your mask.

These are big steps forward, but certainly, many more steps need to be taken before people who follow every word of these guidelines feel fully liberated.

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And if the president wants to turn fear to hope, he needs to look to red states like Florida, which are fully open and doing well, not just to economically crippled blue states like New York and California, which are still struggling to fully reopen.

As the 46th president’s Democrat predecessor, Barack Obama, once said so famously, "there are no red states, or blue states, just the United States." But these are just words to the people, until a leader really acts like these words are true.

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