Peter Bart: Hollywood Could Help Heal Nation’s Divide If Operation Warp Speed Was Finally Given A Shot

Coronavirus Vaccine

Show business can be a great unifying force in a divided nation. Even the oracular Dr Fauci picked up on it this week when he said theaters must be opened by this fall.

There was one “if” in his forecast: To make that happen the famously inert Operation Warp Speed must show signs of life, which, short of Tom Cruise shouting into a bullhorn, may not happen. It is symptomatic of the nation’s problems that even vaccinations have turned out to be divisive, not unifying.

More on this later, but meanwhile Hollywood is giving its effort at unity by re-creating the sorts of old shows that brought folks together. At age 98, Norman Lear is re-pitching All in the Family (would the Proud Boys be adopted by a Jean Stapleton?) A semi-geriatric Sex and the City is being hatched by HBO Max.

But many efforts to re-activate show business have met with frustration. The $15 billion Save Our Stages program may give a lifeline to small venues but not big ones. Symbolically, the decision of some public health officials to use Eventbrite to book shots hasn’t worked as well as it did for rock concerts.

Those who have been in a vaccination line have found the line itself to be good theater — a mix of medical workers with credentials amid confused geriatrics who can’t figure out the system. At some sites, everyone gets a shot; not so at others. Lately much of the vaccine is being drawn from the stash originally set aside for second shots, but since few people showed up, that is being re-thought. And Costco customers are waiting to find out if they will need to get four at the same time.

The confusion is pervasive, even among the “experts,” such as members of that new fraternity of TV “Covid advisers.” They and their crews have been tested so many times their nostrils have become dysfunctional. Los Angeles County officials have further confused the problem by questioning the accuracy of the Curative oral swab, which has yielded too many false negatives.

There have been intriguing suggestions from the medical community on how to improve the vaccine rollout. One proposal is to accelerate vaccination of health care workers, then hold a lottery. “It’s the worst system — except for all the others,” said Dr. Robert M. Wachter of the University of California.

Another proposal: skip the selection process and target those “hot spots” where infections are out of control. More important, stop wasting effort in pressuring those who are reluctant to accept the vaccine. With 40% of the population refusing to roll up their sleeves, the whole program will fall apart if we are stalled by their intransigence.

Some medical experts suggest a still more drastic idea: turn the entire program over to the Department of Motor Vehicles — a body that invented the art of dysfunction and therefore may feel comfortable with this one.

The entire Warp Speed program has become so laggardly that growing corruption is invading the process, the experts testify. The Washington Post this week reported investigations in some states where nursing home companies were diverting vaccines to wealthy “donors” – those who suddenly decided to contribute to help the aged in return for instant shots.

Amid all this, the only point of consensus is that current programs are “a travesty” in President-elect Joe Biden’s words. Initial alarm over lack of supply has now shifted into alarm over distribution. “There has to be some kind of online system where you sign up and get informed when it’s time for you to get your vaccine,” suggests Dr. Pinar Keskinovak of Georgia Tech.

The entire problem has been the product of Trumpian disarray, the experts argue. His regime defined its primary scenario in delivering vaccines to states, each of which would develop its own plan. The federal role would then be to approve the plans and under-fund them.

The upshot: The rollout has managed to accomplish the one objective it least wanted: It has further divided a divided nation. Hence it’s up to Hollywood to figure out ways to bring it together once again.

What is Tom Cruise’s availability?

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