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 U.S. is a country that has far and away the top elite universities in the world — yet ranks in the middle of the pack internationally when it comes to educating its high school students.
- The best U.S. hospitals are the best in the world — yet U.S. life expectancy has plateaued and falls years below comparable countries like the U.K, Canada and Japan.
- Peruse a list of the richest people in the world, and you'll find it mostly populated by Americans — yet more than 43 million Americans live in poverty, a number sure to grow as the pandemic rages on.
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.