My headline makes this sound more boastful than Biden intended it. Although it would have been boastful if the roles were reversed and this had been Trump marveling at his own quick recovery vis-a-vis Biden’s.

“For four days Sleepy Joe was in Walter Reed sleeping off the virus! I was hard at work in the White House, making many calls and having many important meetings. My doctors said to me, ‘Sir, we can’t believe how well you’re handling the COVID.’ Good genes, I guess!”

Biden’s not boasting about recovering more quickly than Trump, he’s using his emergence from COVID isolation as an opportunity to pitch Americans on availing themselves of the pharmaceutical wonders that made his bout with COVID easier than Trump’s. Trump was diagnosed in October 2020, two months before the first vaccines rolled out across America and many months before Pfizer’s wonder drug, Paxlovid, was available. He had to make do with monoclonal antibodies. Biden, meanwhile, is vaxxed to the gills after four shots and had all the Paxlovid he could want. He worked through his convalescence not because he’s “strong” and Trump is “weak” but because, as a matter of luck and timing, he caught the bug at a moment when medicine is better prepared to handle it.

I wonder if there’s a bit of ego hiding behind his conscientious pro-vaccine message here, though. Republicans argue every day that Biden is no longer able to cope with the rigors of the job; Trump himself has allegedly compared the president to a corpse. Now here he is reminding the world that he beat COVID more easily than the strongman did.

He was out in front of reporters today to announce that he turned up negative on a rapid test this morning, proof that there’s no more detectable virus in his nasal passageways. He did sound good, with no sign of lingering symptoms:

It was just six days ago that he tested positive, making this a speedy recovery even by the standards of younger people. His doctors are on the lookout for “Paxlovid rebound,” however, something that Anthony Fauci experienced after he caught the virus last month. Some patients who take the recommended five-day regimen of Paxlovid find that their symptoms begin to disappear while they’re on the drug and then return once they stop taking it. For Fauci, the rebound was worse than the initial infection:

For his part, Dr. Fauci tested positive for the coronavirus about two weeks ago after experiencing a “scratchy throat.” He described his initial symptoms as mild, adding that he did not “feel ill.” He began a five-day course of Paxlovid. (“I’m 81 years old, which is a considerable risk factor,” he explained.) After that, he tested negative for three days in a row.

But on the fourth day, he said, he was “surprised and disappointed” to see that he had tested positive again, and he suffered a recurrence of symptoms, he said, that were worse than before, including a low fever, achiness, a runny nose and a “mild cough.”

Biden’s doctor said in a letter that the president will be tested more frequently in the coming days in hopes of catching any evidence of a rebound early. Fauci took another course of Paxlovid after his own rebound and then recovered fully; scientists are looking at whether a 10-day course should be the recommended dose. Regardless, Fauci warned reporters not to assume that the first five-day course of Paxlovid “didn’t work” just because his symptoms recurred. “Don’t confuse that with the original purpose of what Paxlovid is meant for. It’s not meant to prevent you from rebounding. It’s meant to prevent you from being hospitalized. I’m 81 years old, I was at risk for hospitalization and I didn’t even come close to being sick enough to be hospitalized,” he told the Times.

Meanwhile, if my math is correct, the share of Americans over 65 who’ve had two vaccines doses and then two boosters like Biden is less than 24 percent. Three out of four members of the most at-risk class are sub-optimally protected from COVID, in other words. Paxlovid is also being under-prescribed, possibly because it’s a new drug and doctors fear unknown side effects or how it might mix with other medications. And hundreds of thousands of doses of the most effective monoclonal antibody treatment against the new Omicron subvariants, Evusheld by AstraZeneca, are sitting on shelves because even the immunocompromised who might benefit from it are unaware that it exists.

If anything good comes from Biden’s illness, then, it’ll be the inadvertent advertisement it’s provided for therapies to treat the vulnerable. At the current daily death rate of 500+, we’re looking at 180,000 deaths per year from COVID even in its more quiescent endemic phase. Patients and doctors need to be more aggressive with treatment.

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