Beware of big vaccine promises as 2020 wraps up

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The Thanksgiving break, return of holiday music, and news of an incoming vaccine may have Texans giddy to break out the champagne bottles and celebrate the end to a long year, but there’s still reason to remain cautious.

On Monday, reacting to news that United Airlines had begun distributing dosages of a soon-to-be approved Pfizer vaccine, Gov. Greg Abbott said that Texas was also ready to distribute them. 

Two separate vaccines, one from American pharmaceutical company Pfizer and another by Germany’s Moderna Inc, are currently pending approval. Both Texas and U.S. health officials have made big promises that the distribution of those vaccines will come quickly once they’re approved sometime in mid-December. 

The good news comes as Texas and the rest of the nation battles a second surge in COVID-19 cases, which is a good reminder that federal and state officials have not been effective at containing the outbreak so far. The vaccine will be the most effective method of combating the virus so far, but its distribution still remains in the hands of the current showrunners. 

(It remains to be seen how the Thanksgiving break affected the second wave of cases — last week Texas saw a recording-breaking number of new infections — but it will take a few weeks for people to get sick, get tested, and get their results back and plugged into state data.)

In June and July, it was widely reported that Texas failed to reach its months-old goal of hiring 4,000 contact tracers, and in fact, the number of contact tracers shrunk as cases surged. There were also a wide host of other logistical and technical issues that dampened the efforts of contact tracers and left them doing little work as the outbreak spread, according to reporting by the Houston Chronicle at the time. The state’s testing program also received equally poor coverage; getting tested was an arduous process early on and Texas’s testing numbers have lagged behind other states for most of the outbreak. 

Abbott made big promises about the effectiveness of those programs too and how efficiently and expediently they would be rolled out, not too dissimilar from the language he used during his press conference last week previewing vaccine distribution and announcing that there would be no second lockdown.

At a federal level, and perhaps most importantly, President Trump is currently preoccupied with overturning the results of the election, and it’s hard to see how anything else can occupy his headspace in the coming days — another sign Texans should carry a strict believe-it-when-they-see-it attitude when it comes to the quick and equitable distribution of the vaccines and promises that pre-pandemic normalcy is returning soon.

Photo: Robin Utrecht/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

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