There’s an old saying in journalism that if you end the day having ticked off people on both sides of an issue, you must be doing something right.
It was good to see our governor performing a little of that same kind of “a pox on both your houses” leadership in the past week.
Using blunt language unusual for him, Democratic Gov. Jared Polis criticized the Democratic Biden administration for regulatory delays in rolling out coronavirus vaccine booster shots.
“At the very least, the FDA should get out of the way and allow people to make this choice to protect themselves,” Polis said during a news conference.
Polis has been actively encouraging Coloradans to get boosters, and generally people who show up to a vaccine provider to ask for a booster shot in Colorado will get one without having to show proof of an extenuating health condition.
On Friday, however, expert advisers to the FDA did not do what Polis wanted them to do, which is clear the way for everyone over 16 to get a booster. Instead they recommended the agency only approve boosters for those 65 and older and people with serious diseases.
Polis made his opinion about FDA delays very clear when asked to comment on a piece published Monday in the medical journal The Lancet by two departing FDA vaccine regulators. The piece argued that booster shots are unneeded and that vaccine supplies could be better spent on providing protection to unvaccinated parts of the world.
Polis referred to the authors by name, saying that “we can all celebrate the news that Marianne Gruber and Phil Krause have left the FDA in disgrace over unnecessary delays for the booster.”
“They have blood on their hands and there are thousands of Americans that are dead today because of their delays on the booster shot,” Polis said.
The benefits of boosters outweigh the costs overwhelmingly, Polis went on. “The FDA needs to get out of their ivory tower and realize there is a real-life pandemic with 900 hospitalizations in Colorado, tens of thousands across the country. We have the ability to end it. We need to show the will to end it.”
He also called on federal regulators to approve vaccines for kids under 12 and also to develop guidance for booster shots for people who received the one-dose vaccine from Johnson & Johnson.
“They need to get off their rear ends and provide that guidance,” Polis said.
By the end of the news conference, Polis was praising former President Donald Trump’s Operation Warp Speed for dispensing with bureaucracy to incentivize vaccine development, saying that, without it, “the FDA would have sat on or delayed the life-saving vaccine for many more months.”
“This is a moment where similar leadership is needed by the Biden administration,” Polis said.
This from a man who was highly critical of Trump’s initial response to the pandemic.
He first expressed frustration with the Trump administration in March 2020 when he complained about the lack of early action to ensure early testing.
“Those early steps could have made a difference," Polis said. “There’s nothing I or any other governor could have done earlier.”
Polis later slammed Trump on national television as a "socialist," suggesting the president was more interested in offering "bailouts" to large corporations than small businesses impacted by the coronavirus.
In a press conference later, he said, “In many ways I couldn’t imagine our nation’s response could have been so slow. Like many governors around the country, I’m furious that, as the leader of the free world, we’re being forced to close down many businesses and restaurants and bars because the United States, unlike South Korea, unlike Taiwan, didn’t have enough tests, enough personal protection equipment, or ventilators to properly manage care for those who would get this virus."
You gotta give credit to Polis for equal-opportunity president bashing in the name of serving his state’s interests. His independent streak may, in the long run, help our state thread the COVID needle better than most.
What’s the moral of this story?
Not all problems have a left and a right. Some problems are just problems, and the minute we Velcro ideology onto some problems, they often become bigger, uglier, less solvable problems.
I believe COVID is one of those problems.
COVID fatigue has really set in deep now, and I’m pretty sure at this stage nobody cares much about the left of this issue or the right of this issue, they just want it to go away as fast as possible.
Buffalo Springfield got it right, I think, when they observed that a lot of political fights and speeches and rallies boil down to “Hurrah for our side” rants rather than actually helping solve the problem. “And nobody's right if everybody's wrong,” they sang.
Fortunately, our governor appears to be willing to do whatever it takes, call out whoever he needs to call out, to do the right thing: take care of Coloradans.