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So Why Can't We All Get the COVID-19 Vaccine Right Now?

Depending upon when we start the COVID countdown clock, most of us are heading into the tenth month of this pandemic. Back in March, nobody anticipated we’d be so restricted well after Christmas and into the next year. Did you?

The numbers are chilling—deaths, hospitalizations, infections, business closings, economic ruin. The pandemic is grinding us down.

The Warp Speed program of developing safe and effective vaccines was met with tremendous enthusiasm and scientific pride. However, the bureaucratic, logistical, and administrative challenges of bringing the vaccine into the arms of high-risk individuals and the rest of us have been disappointing, sporadic, and inconsistent.

We chat on the phone and tweet online and email each other about life getting back to “normal.” But even the least medically savvy among us keep asking this important question:

“Okay, the vaccines were developed at a pace which was unthinkable in vaccine development. How come we cannot get it? We knew this was coming down the track so what happened?”

Let us turn to the experts for an in-depth analysis.

Almost everyone has had a flu shot and remembers how easy this process was. You go to a big box pharmacy, a health department, a walk-in clinic at a senior citizens facility, the local family practitioner, or a grocery store. You answer a few questions and that is it. You get the shot and off you go. But the COVID vaccine is much more complex.

  • Although the vaccines were developed in approximately nine months, there was little anticipation of providing the injections to 20 million people (as projected) by the end of 2020. Hello? All the logistics should have been started months ago.

  • COVID-19 testing sites are being converted to injection sites. What’s taking so darned long? Why do people have to register online for an appointment. Why not randomly announce openings for people whose last names begin with C (I prefer to start with those) and Powerball-like random daily selections? Organize drive-through injections in large concert venues and sports stadium parking lots. What’s the problem?

  • Many local jurisdictions such as states could not predict how many doses of the vaccine they would actually have available. This led to significant challenges in scheduling. Who was asleep here?

  • Local public health departments who typically would administer the vaccine are dramatically underfunded with limited finances so personnel were simply not available. Wouldn’t trained healthcare personnel rather step forward to administer shots than hold the hands of the dying in the ICU?

  • The complexity of maintaining unprecedented cold storage especially for the Pfizer product and the reality of providing an initial injection followed by follow-up injections on day 21 or 28 based upon the specific vaccine. Surely there are industrial refrigeration facilities that can be commandeered for this purpose.

  • The actual demand with the vaccines right now is problematic. In some long-term care facilities the willingness of staff to receive the injection has been as low as 20% but in another as high as 80%. According to the Center for Assisted Living, the overall rate of vaccination for the staff is probably in the 50% range. Education is key, but most people want the vaccination. We're here with our sleeves rolled up.

What is the take-home message for each of us?

Based upon extensive population base studies and clinical trials, these vaccines have a 90 to 95% success rate, are amazingly safe, and are clearly one tool in the toolbox of returning life to some state that is relatively “normal.” But until the logistical, bureaucratic, and administrative hurdles of providing the vaccine especially to high-risk individuals are solved, we are well advised what to do in the meanwhile.

We know what works: wash our hands, wear the mask, maintain social isolation, and tighten the bubble to members of our immediate household. The choice is ours. There is no second chance to get this right.

PHOTO: Courtesy Tom Liggett, author of Mozart in the Garden. I figured you're as tired as I am of seeing photos of people in masks and syringes and injections. Let's stop and smell the roses.

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