The COVID-19 vaccination program has become nauseatingly politicized in the United States. Before Christmas, several governors attacked federal officials in charge of distributing the vaccines saying their states had been shorted the doses they were promised. Today, the states were called out by the president and Brent Giroir (the “COVID-19 testing Czar”) because they have the vaccine but are behind in getting people immunized. This finger pointing has helped no one.
We are, however, falling behind. Overall in the U.S., only 2 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered, instead of the 20 million that federal officials believed would be given by the end of the year. In the state of Michigan for example, we have received over 300,000 vaccine doses, but administered only 70,000 of them so far. If activity continues at these rates, it will take years to vaccinate the population!
What underlies the shortfall?
There are a number of issues at play here. This is a complex immunization campaign where individuals receiving the vaccine have to be questioned concerning their COVID-19 status and allergies to vaccines. Because of safety concerns, people have to be socially distanced, and immunizations must be followed by a 15-to-30-minute waiting period to ensure there are no adverse events. The vaccine has logistical issues in terms of keeping it frozen. However, it may have been that rolling it out during the Christmas holiday and several snowstorms had a bigger effect.
Health care workers were prioritized first to receive these vaccines, but many had already taken time off between Christmas and New Year’s to care for families (often for the first time since March). This left hospitals short staffed at a time when many places had increased numbers of COVID-19 patients. The sign up methods have been cumbersome. Many folks did not have childcare, and the vaccine sites often did not accommodate people with children. Parking has even been an issue at many of the places where the vaccines are being given! These small problems caused large logistical issues for potential vaccinees.
How do we fix this?
First, facilitate appointments for vaccinees in public places with parking and childcare. The University of Michigan is now giving vaccines in the football stadium! Give people time off from work to get vaccinated. Reward them in some significant way.
Controversially, I will also argue that we should be giving a vaccine to whomever wants it, even outside group 1a! If we have openings for vaccinations, get people on a call-in list so we can bring them in and use every appointment and every dose we have available! The CDC priorities should be a guideline, not some Orwellian rule.
I don’t mean that we should be making people stand in line for hours, like they did in Florida, or selling the vaccine to the highest bidder. But if we have 75-year-olds or people with predisposing illnesses, let’s get them on a call in list and get them in now!
Every person we vaccinate, regardless of CDC category, is someone who won’t get sick from COVID-19 and overwhelm the health care system. As Nike says, “Just do it!”