Sally Pipes: COVID vaccinations are going much too slowly — here’s how to speed them up and save lives
Former White House medical advisor on vaccine distribution
Former Senior White House medical advisor Dr. Saralyn Mark weighs in on coronavirus vaccine rollout
Vaccines against the novel coronavirus were developed in record time. But getting those vaccines into the arms of Americans has been frustratingly slow at a time when speeding up vaccinations is literally a matter of life and death.
Tragically, thousands of people are dying of COVID-19 every day in the U.S. and the confirmed death rate from the disease reached nearly 350,000 people across the nation Saturday night, according to Johns Hopkins University. Hospitals are running out of capacity to treat COVID-19 patients in addition to patients being treated for other conditions.
Rather than continuing to try to develop government-run vaccination programs in every state, it would make more sense to rely on pharmacies already located in American communities to dramatically speed our unacceptably slow pace vaccinations.
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Top officials in charge of the federal government’s Operation Warp Speed had set a goal of vaccinating 20 million Americans by the end of 2020.
But according to a count by Bloomberg News, as of Saturday night nearly 4.3 million vaccines had been administered in the U.S. to 1.3% of our population.
Far more vaccine doses are piling up unused.
Nearly 13.1 million doses of the two-dose vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna had been distributed in the U.S. by Saturday night, according to the Bloomberg count.
It would take 662 million vaccine doses to give everyone in America two shots of a coronavirus vaccine, spaced three or four weeks apart. The current rate of vaccinations is obviously inadequate.
Why the sluggish rollout? Some officials have pointed to the holidays. Some vaccination clinics actually shut their doors over Christmas. That's pitiful. It should be obvious that the coronavirus doesn't observe holidays.
The federal government deserves blame in addition to the states. Case in point: Operation Warp Speed's plan to collaborate with private pharmacy chains CVS and Walgreens in vaccinating long-term care facility residents hasn't officially launched. Yet states are still required to hold part of their vaccine stores for use in this program.
Not surprisingly, President-elect Joe Biden has seized this opportunity to condemn the Trump administration's handling of the vaccine effort. On Tuesday Biden announced three coordinators who will oversee COVID-19 vaccine distribution, testing and supply-chain logistics in his administration.
Some of Biden’s criticisms are valid. There is no denying that the vaccine rollout has been far too slow. But it's not clear that a different roster of government bureaucrats is what this problem demands. Democratic- and Republican-led states alike have struggled to get their people vaccinated, so this should not be treated as a partisan issue.
Why not lean more heavily on the private sector? After all, the U.S. already has a private distribution infrastructure in place, and it includes pharmacies like CVS, Walgreens, and other chains — many of which are open 24 hours a day.
Using taxpayer dollars to incentivize a faster, more aggressive vaccination effort through these channels would be a far more efficient use of government resources than doling out bigger relief payments to most Americans.
The only reason people are clamoring for such financial assistance is because of COVID-19 — a disease for which we now, at long last, possess multiple vaccines.
What we need to do is administer these medical marvels en masse — and quickly. The Biden administration's best hope of achieving that goal is to leverage the power of the private-sector institutions with the logistical experience and know-how to inoculate the country — a task to which the public sector has thus far proven wholly unsuited.
The Pfizer vaccine earned emergency use authorization Dec. 11 and the Moderna vaccine received the same authorization a week later.
It’s unacceptable that just under one-third of the available vaccine doses in the U.S. have been administered to Americans, while the rest sit in storage.
Every day vaccinations are delayed, the cost of COVID-19 — in terms of lives lost, hospitalizations, less severe illness and economic harm inflicted — grows worse.
If government officials aren't up to the job of inoculating the nation, then perhaps it's time we turn to the private sector.
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For months, the biggest barrier to defeating COVID-19 seemed to be technological. No one was sure that a vaccine for the novel coronavirus was even possible. Manufacturing a potential vaccine on a large scale and delivering it to health care providers would be a daunting undertaking, too.
Against all odds, researchers overcame these challenges and achieved among the greatest scientific successes in a century. And two more vaccines could soon come to the United States.
Johnson & Johnson may apply for emergency use authorization for its one-shot vaccine this month. AstraZeneca's coronavirus vaccine has been approved for use in the United Kingdom. The head of Operation Warp Speed predicts that it will arrive in the United States in the spring.
Those commendable efforts are now being squandered by officials at all levels of government.
Other nations are doing a much better job of vaccinations. Israel, Bahrain, and the United Kingdom are all rolling out the vaccine far more rapidly. Israel has already vaccinated 10.5% of its population, according to the Bloomberg count.
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True, Israel has far fewer people than the United States. But that doesn't explain why Virginia, New Jersey, and Washington — states with populations comparable to Israel's — have only inoculated about 1% of their residents.
The bottom line is that no matter how great a vaccine is, it does no one any good sitting in a freezer. Harnessing the private sector to speed up vaccinations is a commonsense idea that deserves support from officials at all levels of government and in all political parties.
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