More than 45 million Americans have been infected with the coronavirus. 730,000 sons, daughters, mothers, and fathers never recovered. As the pandemic drags on, America needs a long-term game plan to deal with COVID and any new variants.
If a sweeping shutdown made sense in March of 2020, it’s not an option today. The bruising economic fallout from COVID limited opportunity for millions of Americans, hitting minorities and low wage earners the hardest. We can’t go back. We need “open” signs in our storefronts, but we also need kids in our schools and families in our churches.
Since Americans need to go about their lives, we must use every tool in the toolbox to keep people healthy and treat those who fall ill. Unfortunately, our response to COVID has been increasingly a matter of taking sides: Us vs. Them. Left vs. Right. This vs. That.
But health care decisions are too personal to be politicalized, and treatments should not be limited to those favored by the people in power. That’s why we need to reject false choices and adopt an “All of the Above” strategy to fight COVID. Among other things, that should include:
• A rapid expansion of testing for every American, but especially for schools and higher risk populations. From when Congress initially approved the funding to ramp up test manufacturing, it took over seven months for the Biden administration to announce manufacturing investment awards and even longer to outline their plans to increase access to over-the-counter tests. The key to treatment is knowing quickly if you’re sick, so we must move faster.
• A continued focus on educating the public about vaccines, and making them available to every person who wants one. Vaccines are proving to be safe and effective, and I’ve taken mine. While we’re still studying the long-term effects, the complication rates are low.
• Allowing health care providers to access monoclonal antibody (mAb) treatments direct from the manufacturer. Many experts believe these treatments can help save lives and hospital beds if administered within days of an infection.
• Incentivizing innovation and evaluation of other drugs that may prove effective, including the use of ivermectin, budesonide, and Remdesivir. I’ve heard from doctors who strongly believe in these treatments, and there may be real merit for some patients. We should follow the facts and research, rejecting efforts to attach a stigma to a particular drug that might prove to work.
These and other steps are not mutually exclusive, and some treatments may make more sense for certain people than others. Doctors and patients should have every available tool to determine what will work best. Doctors and patients—not politicians and bureaucrats—should be in the driver’s seat.
But that’s not always been the case.
The Biden administration’s sweeping vaccine mandate is wrong. While the vaccines are a scientific and technological breakthrough, the White House must recognize the finished products are still relatively new in the grand scheme of things. Americans have the right to make the decision to take a new vaccine or not. Government mandates are not the answer; frank conversations between patients and doctors are.
Similarly, the government should not interfere in the free-market supply chain of critical antibody treatments. Until recently, these treatments were available direct from the suppliers. Now, Washington, D.C. has gotten into the rationing game, potentially picking winners and losers, and almost certainly slowing the delivery of a time sensitive treatment. That policy should be reversed.
We also shouldn’t tolerate foot dragging from the Biden administration on the approval of new drugs—or the mocking of Americans who seek alternative treatments—simply because the administration is so deeply invested in its own mask/vaccine-mandate approach. Back in April, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) actually made the decision not to exercise contract options to purchase mAb treatments from manufacturers. It seems that after first gaining power, the Biden administration was so confident that everyone would just get vaccinated, no questions asked, that they willingly prioritized vaccination as a tool to be used above all else. Congress appropriated an astounding amount of money to health agencies to seek out every possible tool to fight COVID. American taxpayers deserve to have their money put to good use.
Most importantly, it’s time to come together, and that starts with setting aside politics. Every American has a responsibility to do his or her part, so visit your doctor’s office to learn how to best keep you and your family healthy. While there, thank the frontline health professionals who have kept so us safe over the last 18 months. Their sacrifice and perseverance is an inspiration, and they deserve our gratitude.
Senator Tommy Tuberville represents Alabama in the United States Senate and is a member of the Senate Armed Services, Agriculture, Veterans’ Affairs, and HELP Committees.