U.S.' COVID Vaccine Progress an Unlikely, Unintentional Biden-Trump Team Effort

President Joe Biden and his predecessor, Donald Trump, have both in recent days celebrated the fact most Americans can be vaccinated for COVID-19 in the coming months—a record pace for a novel virus. But just who deserves credit for the effort is drawing a sharp divide among them and their supporters.

Many Trump allies have argued Biden's taking credit for Trump's Operation Warp Speed. On the Biden side, supporters argue that he's responsible for actually getting shots into people's arms and deserves the credit. The rival factions remain bitterly divided after Biden defeated Trump in the November election and Trump spent months claiming, without evidence, that he actually won.

Like most partisan battles, the truth on coronavirus vaccines likely falls in the middle—an unlikely, albeit unintentional, team effort.

"Both administrations are right to claim credit for what's going on," Eric Toner, a senior scholar with the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told Newsweek.

Trump's Warp Speed effort, which he announced in May as the pandemic continued to surge, encouraged top researchers to create effective vaccines at an "unprecedented pace."

"They get credit for having all the vaccines ready in record time," Toner said. "What they didn't do is they didn't put much of any effort into the details of how they would be administered."

That's where Biden, who was sworn in on January 20, comes in.

"The Biden administration has put a lot of emphasis on the administering of the vaccines, and it's gone increasingly well," Toner said. "The Biden administration has also worked with companies to increase the amount they are producing."

More than 537,000 people in the United States have died of COVID-19, but the daily death rate and positive cases have slowly ticked downward as more people obtain vaccines or carry antibodies after recovering from the coronavirus.

The coronavirus pandemic and the effort to fast-track vaccine development was a prominent topic as Biden and Trump sparred on the campaign trail last fall.

More than 110 million vaccine doses have been administered in the United States to date. When Trump left office, about 14 million shots had been distributed, though the effort began about a month earlier and was on a daily incline.

After multiple announcements that more vaccines are being manufactured and distributed across the country, the Biden administration expects the U.S. will have enough vaccine so that every American who wants to get it can by the end of May—an accomplishment he again touted in an interview Tuesday.

"We've been able to purchase enough vaccine, with a lotta, a lotta heavy lifting," Biden told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos.

Meanwhile, Trump also took to the airwaves Tuesday and slammed what he's viewed as Biden's attempt to take credit for his work. A New York businessman, Trump leaned on regulators to fast-track approval, in hopes the vaccine would be approved before the election and give his campaign a much-needed boost.

"We took a big bet on this," he told Fox News and Fox Business anchor Maria Bartiromo. "We saved many, many months and millions of lives by doing what we did."

"We did a great job, and we get very little credit for it," Trump added.

Just last week, Trump also stressed the point with a press release from his post-presidency office. Trump was banned from Twitter, previously his preferred mode of public communication, after rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6 after he held a rally challenging the election results.

"I hope everyone remembers when they're getting the COVID-19 [...] Vaccine, that if I wasn't President, you wouldn't be getting that beautiful 'shot' for 5 years, at best, and probably wouldn't be getting it at all," he said in the statement. "I hope everyone remembers!"

Trump's spokeswoman didn't respond to Newsweek's request for further comment, but high-ranking Republicans have been vocal via Twitter with thoughts on the perceived slight.

"Don't believe Biden falsely claiming credit for Trump's vaccine accomplishments," Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel tweeted Monday. "During the campaign, he encouraged Americans not to trust Operation Warp Speed. Under Trump, vaccine distribution was rapidly accelerating."

"Joe Biden breaks his arm patting himself on the back for building on Covid response made possible by Pres Trump & Operation Warp Speed but Biden gives Trump no credit," former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee tweeted last week.

Presidents frequently avoid directly crediting opposite-party predecessors for positive developments. Similarly, the current White House administration has mostly avoided engaging in the political battle over the vaccine's development.

"I don't think anyone deserves credit when half a million people in the country have died of this pandemic," White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters earlier this month. "What our focus is on, and what the President's focus is on when he came into office just over a month ago, was ensuring that we had enough vaccines—we are going to have them now—we had enough vaccinators, and we had enough vaccine locations to get this pandemic under control."

"There's no question, and all data points to the fact, that there were not enough of any of those things when he took office," she added.

Pressed more directly why Biden has avoided mentioning Trump's efforts, Psaki said the administration has focused on the gains since Biden took office.

"The president himself and many people in our administration have conveyed that making the progress that was made—and we've said this publicly—on these vaccines was a herculean, incredible effort by science and by medical experts," she said. "But I would say there is a clear difference and there are clear steps that have been taken since the president took office that have put us in a trajectory that we were not on when he was inaugurated, and leadership starts at the top," Psaki said.

Biden vaccine
US President Joe Biden(L) and Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough(R) visit a Covid-19 vaccination site at the Washington DC Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Washington, DC on March 8, 2021. Mandel NGAN / AFP/Getty Images