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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

America's bungled political and social response to the coronavirus exists side-by-side with a record-breaking push to create a vaccine with U.S. companies and scientists at the center.

Why it matters: America's two-sided response serves as an X-ray of the country itself — still capable of world-beating feats at the high end, but increasingly struggling with what should be the simple business of governing itself.

What's happening: An index published last week by FP Analytics, an independent research division of Foreign Policy, ranked the U.S. 31st out of 36 countries in its assessment of government responses to COVID-19.

  • That puts it below developed countries like New Zealand and Denmark, and also lower than nations with fewer resources like Ghana, Kenya and South Africa.
  • The index cited America's limited emergency health care spending, insufficient testing and hospital beds and limited debt relief.

By the numbers: As my Axios colleague Jonathan Swan pointed out in an interview with President Trump, the U.S. has one of the worst per-capita death rates from COVID-19, at 50.29 per 100,000 population.

Yes, but: Work on a COVID-19 vaccine is progressing astonishingly fast, with the Cambridge-based biotech company Moderna and the National Institutes of Health announcing at the end of July that they had begun Phase 3 of the clinical trial.

  • Their efforts are part of a global rush to a vaccine, and while companies in the U.K. and China are jockeying for the lead, U.S. companies and the NIH's resources and expertise have been key to the effort.
  • Anthony Fauci has said he expects "tens of millions" of doses to be available by early 2021, a little over a year after the novel coronavirus was discovered.
  • If that turns out to be the case, "the Covid-19 vaccine could take a place alongside the Apollo missions as one of history’s greatest scientific achievements," epidemiologist Michael Kinch recently wrote in STAT.

So which is the real American response to COVID-19? The bungled testing policies, the politically driven rush to reopen, the tragic racial divide seen in the sick and the dead? Or the warp-speed work to develop a vaccine in a year when most past efforts took decades?

Be smart: It's both.

The bottom line: It can often feel as if there are two Americas, and not even a virus that has spread around the world seems capable of bridging that gap.

Go deeper: Florida reports another daily record for coronavirus deaths

Go deeper

Nov 18, 2020 - Health

Pfizer says latest data shows its coronavirus vaccine is safe and 95% effective

Photo: Dogukan Keskinkilic/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Pfizer said on Wednesday that its coronavirus vaccine is 95% effective and has no serious side effects.

The state of play: The company said they have enough safety data now and plan to request an emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration "within days."

Nov 18, 2020 - Health

Over a quarter-million people have died in the U.S. from COVID-19

Photo: Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty

The United States topped 250,000 coronavirus-related deaths on Wednesday as infections soar in nearly every pocket of every state in the country, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

Why it matters: The sharp rise in the number of cases and fatalities has accelerated calls for government action. Wednesday's news exceeded infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci's March prediction in which he said "we should be prepared" that COVID-19 could kill 240,000 Americans.

Updated Nov 18, 2020 - Health

FDA approves first coronavirus test for self-testing at home

Laura Robles, 14, takes a swab at a COVID-19 testing site in Los Angeles on Nov. 11. The Lucira test kit is a nasal swab to be used by people aged 14 or older. Photo: Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The Food and Drug Administration announced in a post Tuesday night that it has issued an emergency use authorization for the first COVID-19 test for self-testing at home — and it returns rapid results.

Why it matters: Coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths from the virus are accelerating across the U.S. This rapid home test could help reduce testing delays.