Pandemic of Obsolete Talking Points

January 6, 2022

Omicron is now the dominant coronavirus variant across the country, responsible for 95.4 percent of new cases last week, according to CDC data. President Biden's talking points have yet to catch up. "There's no excuse," he said Tuesday, "no excuse for anyone being unvaccinated. This continues to be a pandemic of the unvaccinated, so we've got to make more progress." Did he skip a briefing or something? As early as December 20, the CDC warned, "anyone with Omicron infection can spread the virus to others, even if they are vaccinated or don't have symptoms." That sounds like vaccinated Americans can not only catch the new variant, but spread it! Since then, new cases have simply skyrocketed. "Lots and lots of people who were previously infected and also lots and lots of people who are vaccinated are now getting Omicron," remarked Stanford Professor of Medicine Jay Bhattacharya.

Of course, the notion that various COVID shots offered complete immunity to the virus never enjoyed scientific confirmation. As early as February 2021 (even before the vaccine was generally available) priority groups were already experiencing "breakthrough" cases, where vaccinated persons tested positive for COVID. Through the end of April, 10,262 "breakthrough" cases had been reported, which the CDC admitted was "likely a substantial undercount." Although what these cases "broke through" was never specified (perhaps the vaccine's effectiveness, or a barrier of scientific ignorance), it should have been obvious by late spring that the virus had torn a yawning cavity clear through it.

In fact, the CDC has tacitly acknowledged for months that vaccinated people can still get infected. Thus, they authorized booster shots in September (because two doses were not enough). They recommend vaccinated people should still wear a mask (or two), although cloth masks provide little protection (because the vaccine's protection is evidently insufficient). And with the rise of the new Omicron variant, even the protection against infection vaccines did provide appears to be greatly reduced.

But President Biden, who wore a mask while getting his own booster shot in September, has repeated his anti-factual talking point often enough to convince himself it's true. "You're not going to get COVID if you have these vaccinations," he said in July. The "pandemic of the unvaccinated" became a preventable tragedy in August. Then in September it turned personal when President Biden accused unvaccinated Americans for prolonging the pandemic. "We've been patient, but our patience is wearing thin," he said. "And your refusal has cost all of us." The refrain hardened into vaccine mandates in October, and expanded to children in November, while growing steadily more implausible.

"It's very irresponsible at this point in the pandemic to stigmatize people who are vaccinated or unvaccinated," noted Dr. Bhattacharya. By this point, most unvaccinated Americans have natural immunity from previous infection. But neither vaccination nor natural immunity appear to protect people from catching the Omicron variant. They reduce the risk of severe illness, but not infection. Leveraging the shot as a political wedge serves "no discernible purpose as far as public health goes," he said. Instead, it "undermines confidence in public health and reduces the ability to provide... trustworthy information that people will take seriously."

Last year, President Biden entered office pledging to swiftly end the pandemic. Now, a new variant evades every tool we have yet devised. But Omicron is also milder, with 29 percent lower hospitalizations for adults. "The disease now is defanged," said Bhattacharya. Governments should be "telling people about tools to get back to normal life." We can't abolish COVID, but we can live with it. Insisting upon complete abolition is folly.