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Editorial: Trump's dismissal of booster shots undermines his one pandemic achievement

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Vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are prepared for packaging at the company’s facility in Puurs, Belgium, in March.  

Then-President Donald Trump’s catastrophic mishandling of the pandemic last year has already secured his place among the worst presidents in America’s history. The one bright spot in the entire tragic debacle was his administration’s speed in developing vaccines against the coronavirus. Now, in a sorry postscript that severely undermines that achievement, Trump says he will likely refuse the recommended third vaccine booster, with the bizarre claim that it’s some kind of for-profit scam.

As president when the worst global pandemic in a century arose in early 2020, Trump’s response was a disastrous mix of wishful thinking, science denial and misinformation. Even as his government’s own experts warned that the few U.S. cases early on would quickly bloom into a national epidemic, Trump, obsessed with protecting his economic record, publicly predicted the virus would disappear on its own, “like a miracle.” When the numbers instead exploded, he took to baselessly challenging both the official death counts and the experts’ advice.

He resisted the societal shutdowns that doctors said were needed to contain the spread. He bickered with desperate governors instead of providing them with coherent leadership, sometimes even threatening to withhold federal help from states that had displeased him. He refused to set an example by masking in public, and conducted large, maskless rallies that became superspreader events. He promoted quack cures that included disinfectant and the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine. If Trump’s goal had been to make the pandemic as devastating as possible, it’s difficult to imagine what he would have done differently.

The one big exception was Operation Warp Speed, the public-private partnership initiated by the Trump administration to develop viable vaccines by the end of 2020. It was an unprecedented timetable for a process that normally might have taken years. The speedy delivery of the vaccines has undoubtedly saved countless lives. Trump will always deserve credit for that historic achievement and for encouraging his followers to take the vaccine — even if too tepidly and with mixed success, as was demonstrated recently when some of his own followers at a rally in Alabama booed him for it.

Perhaps that was on Trump’s mind when he told The Wall Street Journal last week that he “probably won’t” get the booster shot that doctors say may soon be necessary for the fully vaccinated (as Trump is). Two weeks prior, he dismissively told Fox News the boosters are “a money-making operation for Pfizer.”

After leading the extraordinary vaccine-development effort, Trump first hobbled it with his mixed messaging on the seriousness of the pandemic, and now has completely kicked the legs out from under it by giving his followers one more reason to continue putting themselves and those around them in danger. How many more of Trump’s followers have to die before he finally understands the damage he’s still doing, even out of office?