With parts of the country rushing to remove COVID-19 restrictions, it's become even more imperative to quickly vaccinate a critical mass of the population. America's better angels are in a race against their restless ones.
On that point, the news this week has been obliging.
On Tuesday, governors in Texas and Mississippi lifted mask mandates and declared their intention to open businesses "100%." These states aren't the only ones pushing their luck on public health, but since Texas recently is where best-laid plans go to be discombobulated, we'll focus there. The 100% reopening will occur with just 6.5% of the state's residents having been fully vaccinated. Herd immunity requires vaccination rates of 70 to 90%, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci. It's unclear how long naturally acquired immunity after a COVID infection lasts, but in Texas that still would account for just 35% of the population.
Throughout the pandemic, some people and their leaders have been reluctant to adhere to sensible restrictions until disease numbers surpass their pain point. But once more unto the breach, dear friends.
That's why another bit of news this week is so welcome. Two competitors in the pharmaceutical industry, Johnson & Johnson and Merck, will team up to produce the newly approved J&J vaccine more quickly than seemed possible a month ago. How this happened is important.
On a Sunday afternoon in early February, members of the new Biden administration were on the phone with J&J officials and realized that the company would not meet its production targets. J&J had discussed a partnership with Merck previously, but the effort had gone inert. The administration brokered a deal to rejuvenate it. Merck, which had been unable to formulate its own vaccine, will help produce J&J's instead. It will get government funding to adapt some of its facilities.
For the companies, this is good corporate citizenship. For the rest of us, it's an example of what a presidency can achieve working behind the scenes to administer to the nation's needs. It was presence, not public bombast, that got the deal done. Not that big-stick authority was irrelevant: The Defense Production Act, under which the government can compel company action for the national good under certain circumstances, provided both direct and "implicit" support.