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Image: Eastern Colorado VA Receives Shipments Of Covid-19 Vaccines
A pharmacy technician prepares a dose of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine for a clinical trial at Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center in Aurora, Colorado on Dec. 15, 2020.Michael Ciaglo / Getty Images file

Nine months later, Trump again looks to states to do heavy lifting

In mid-March, Trump urged Americans to blame state and local officials for an inadequate coronavirus response. This week, he's doing it again.


Once coronavirus vaccines were approved for emergency use, Americans heard ambitious plans about the tens of millions of people who'd be vaccinated by the end of December. As the month draws to an end, the United States is clearly falling far short of its goals.

And while there are several factors contributing to delays, STAT News, which is associated with Boston Globe Media, reported yesterday on a familiar dynamic.

The logistics of the rollout have been largely left up to states to navigate. States and local public health officials have warned for months that they would need more than $8 billion in additional funding to stand up the infrastructure needed to administer vaccines. The Trump administration instead provided states $340 million in funding to prepare for vaccinations. Congressional lawmakers also balked for months at appropriating additional funding for vaccine distribution....

This is not a model for success. State and local public health officials have been given enormous responsibilities, but they lack the resources to effectively get needles into shoulders quickly.

It's against this backdrop that Donald Trump, sensitive to criticisms that he's failing once again on his way out the door, has settled on a new pitch: the president wants states to move faster. Here, for example, was a tweet the Republican published late yesterday afternoon:

"It is up to the States to distribute the vaccines once brought to the designated areas by the Federal Government. We have not only developed the vaccines, including putting up money to move the process along quickly, but gotten them to the states. Biden failed with Swine Flu!"

It was tempting to laugh a bit at the superfluous non-sequitur at the end -- Biden did not, in fact, fail with H1N1, though the topic itself is an unnecessary tangent -- but the point is that Trump is clearly trying to pass the buck after his administration failed to develop an effective distribution strategy.

He added this morning, "The Federal Government has distributed the vaccines to the states. Now it is up to the states to administer. Get moving!"

There are three elements to this that are worth keeping in mind. First, telling state and local public health officials to "get moving" isn't helpful when they lack the resources to meet the administration's goals. Second, this dynamic will, fortunately, soon change: the economic package Congress approved last week includes billions of dollars for national vaccine distribution, which should make a real difference.

And third, if this entire dynamic sounds familiar, it's not your imagination.

In mid-March, as the United States started confronting the COVID-19 crisis in earnest, Trump tried this same tactic. The president famously declared, "I don't take responsibility at all," while shifting weighty burdens onto state and local officials.

As we discussed at the time, Trump's position was intended to serve as a political shield: any coronavirus failures should be blamed on governors, the argument went, since he had tasked them with taking the lead.

Nine months later, he's reading from the same script.