US Pandemic Response: Failure after Failure

On Feb. 7, the bell at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., tolled 900 times in memory of the 900,000 Americans who have died during the COVID-19 pandemic. With the mournful sound of the bell still ringing in our ears, even worse news has surfaced: According to USA Today, Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to the president, indicated that the U.S. is on track to reach 1 million deaths in April.

As a globally-acknowledged superpower, the U.S. has a world-class health care system. Yet the U.S. has the greatest total number of COVID-19 deaths in the world and the highest mortality rate among all high-income countries. As public health experts have put it, this represents “an American failure.”

The U.S. Government Accountability Office, an agency of the U.S. Congress, recently released a report critical of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, summarizing five major shortcomings. These included a lack of clarity in the roles and responsibilities for federal, state and non-governmental partners; incomplete and inconsistent data collection; a lack of clear and consistent communication to key partners and the public; insufficient transparency and accountability; and insufficient understanding of key partners’ capabilities and limitations. The report designated the Department of Health and Human Services’ coordination and leadership of public health emergencies as “High Risk” and stated there was room for improvement in the overseeing of relief funds and response to public health emergencies.

That said, public health authorities alone are not responsible for the failed U.S. fight against the pandemic. The U.S. government’s failures have long been widely criticized. Since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, the Government Accounting Office has worked to provide recommendations to the U.S. government on how to better fight the pandemic and support businesses and people to resume productive work and lives. However, as of last Dec. 31, only 40 of the agency’s 246 recommendations have been fully addressed and implemented, with another 54 partially adopted. Three out of four matters the agency has brought to Congress for consideration remain unresolved.

America’s failure is also reflected in vaccination rates. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 40% of the U.S. population is still not fully vaccinated. “For a country which has a vaccines-only strategy, we’re not very good at vaccination,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, representing the views of many people. Thomas Bollyky, director of the global health program at the Council on Foreign Relations, notes that in recent decades, increasing numbers of Americans distrust the government, and even each other. This makes them less likely to comply with public health initiatives such as vaccination or social distancing.

The U.K.’s Guardian newspaper bluntly states that the U.S. has never responded to the COVID-19 pandemic in any unified, sustained and proactive way. Moreover, the consequences of the pandemic are grim in the United States because of sharp political divides and huge gaps between the rich and poor. However, while its own response to the pandemic is weak, U.S. politicians are in “blame-shifting mode” and politicizing the fight against the pandemic instead of reflecting on their own shortcomings and learning from the successful experiences of other countries.

Unfortunately, America’s failures continue. With the midterm elections looming, the U.S. urgently needs to create the illusion that “the pandemic is getting better,” with some places removing mask mandates. This is outright politicization of the pandemic. The latest polling from the Pew Research Center shows that 50% of respondents believe “the worst is still to come.”

If the pandemic was a stress test, the U.S. clearly failed it. Worse still, the U.S. continues to move from failure to failure.

About this publication

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply