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U.S. Vaccine Rollout Making Slow Progress

Although vaccine distribution has not met expectations domestically, the U.S. program is still far ahead of most countries.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
US President-elect Joe Biden receives the second course of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine on January 11, 2021 at Christiana Hospital in Newark, Delaware, administered by Chief Nurse Executive Ric Cuming. (Photo by JIM WATSON / AFP) (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)
US President-elect Joe Biden receives the second course of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine on January 11, 2021 at Christiana Hospital in Newark, Delaware, administered by Chief Nurse Executive Ric Cuming. (Photo by JIM WATSON / AFP) (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The U.S. coronavirus vaccine rollout continues slowly, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo touts Iran-al Qaeda links, and U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres seeks a second term.

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Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The U.S. coronavirus vaccine rollout continues slowly, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo touts Iran-al Qaeda links, and U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres seeks a second term.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Even As Vaccine Rollout Stumbles, U.S. Ahead of Pack

It’s been one month since the United States first approved a coronavirus vaccine and the task of getting shots into the arms of Americans is showing slow progress.

As of Monday, roughly 9.2 million people had been inoculated with a first dose of vaccine, far behind estimates made by Health Secretary Alex Azar in December that 20 million people would be vaccinated by the end of 2020.

Uneven results. The explanation for why the rollout has been so sluggish is the same that can be used for the U.S. performance over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic: a decentralized response, unevenly led state-by-state. Roughly 1 in 20 residents have been vaccinated in West Virginia, whereas in California fewer than 1 in 50 have received a vaccine.

It’s not for lack of supplies. California, for example, still has more than 2 million vaccine doses left to distribute. In New York, fears of criminal prosecution for giving vaccines to the wrong people seems to have chilled the response, although state officials have recently moved to relax distribution guidelines in response.

Biden frustrated. The anxiety about the speed of vaccinations has spread to the transition team of President-elect Joe Biden. Politico reports that Biden has expressed frustration at his coronavirus response staff for underperforming, putting Biden’s goal of 100 million vaccinations in his first 100 days in office in jeopardy.

Although the U.S. vaccine program has yet to meet expectations domestically, the rollout is far ahead of most of the competition (helped in part by early moves to secure vaccines ahead of other countries). Only four countries: Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and the United Kingdom have vaccinated a higher proportion of their populations, according to a count by Bloomberg. Israel leads the pack by a large margin: more than 20 percent of its citizens have already received a dose.

Soft power strikeout. While concerns about vaccines rise at home, the United States may have missed an easy diplomatic win abroad. Writing in Foreign Policy, Steve Cook examined the great power vaccine diplomacy currently playing out. “If Americans are worried about the Chinese and Russian challenge, the absence of the United States in battling the coronavirus in a variety of important places, including the Middle East, is glaring,” Cook writes.


What We’re Following Today

Pompeo to tout Iran-Al Qaeda link. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is set to claim a link between Iranian authorities and al Qaeda in a speech he will deliver today at the National Press Club. It’s the latest in a string of anti-Iran actions the Trump administration has taken since Joe Biden’s victory in November’s U.S. presidential election. Writing in 2019, Foreign Policy’s Mike Hirsh explained why an alliance between al Qaeda and Iran is viewed skeptically within the U.S. intelligence community.

U.S. House votes to pressure Pence. U.S. lawmakers in the House of Representatives are to vote on a resolution today calling on Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th amendment to the U.S. Constitution in order to remove President Trump from office. The move precedes an impeachment vote in the House, expected to take place on Wednesday.

Fallout from the Capitol insurrection continues, as a number of lawmakers have become infected with the coronavirus, likely contracted when sheltering from the mob with a number of their maskless colleagues.

Ireland the epicenter. Ireland has become the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic almost overnight, as cases in the country surge to unprecedented levels. On Monday, the number of cases reported in Ireland was the highest in the world per capita.

Officials blame the sudden rise on a confluence of factors, including a more transmissible variant imported from the U.K. and increased social mixing over the Christmas period as restrictions were relaxed. The designation is a dramatic fall from grace, as cases were among the lowest in Europe at the beginning of December.


Keep an Eye On

WHO to Wuhan. A team of World Health Organization experts whose members had been blocked from entering China to investigate the origins of the coronavirus will now be allowed into the country. The Chinese foreign ministry played down the delay as a “misunderstanding.” The WHO team is now due to begin its investigations in Wuhan and will arrive on Jan. 14.

Crown prince wanted. Oman’s new leader, Sultan Haitham bin Tariq al-Said, has announced constitutional changes that will see the country have a crown prince for the first time. Sultan Haitham was named as Oman’s new leader following the death of Sultan Qaboos, who recommended his successor in a sealed envelope that was opened posthumously. Omani state media did not say who the crown prince would be.

Guterres to go again. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres announced he is to run for a second five-year term as head of the international body. The United Kingdom welcomed his decision, removing a key stumbling block. Guterres will now be seeking support from the other four permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, as any one of them can veto his appointment.


Odds and Ends 

A Moscow kebab shop named after Soviet leader Joseph Stalin has closed after just 24 hours of opening after a string of complaints from angry residents. In its brief existence Stalin Doner served items like “Stalin with double meat” and “Beria with tkemali sauce”—a reference to Stalin’s notorious secret police chief.

The shop’s owner, Stanislav Voltman, was interviewed by police for three hours following complaints. “They asked me if my head was screwed on straight,” Voltman told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. “It’s not like I had Hitler as the face of my brand,” Voltman said.

Despite public outcry about the kebabs, support for Stalin is on the rise in Russia. A Levada Center poll in 2019 found that 70 percent of Russians think Stalin played a completely or relatively positive role in the life of the country.


That’s it for today. 

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Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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