The United States rollout of the coronavirus vaccine has been anything but smooth, Pfizer’s vaccine rollout has hit a major snag. As of early February 2021, more than 8% of Americans have received at least one dose of a vaccine. And there are concerns about disparities when it comes to which Americans have access. The Kaiser Family Foundation tracked data from 16 states that are reporting the races of vaccine recipients. And found people of color were receiving the vaccine at much lower rates than white Americans. This is especially concerning since nonwhite Americans are at higher risk for contracting the virus. The U.S. is still ahead of most European countries when it comes to its rollout, but experts say the process has been moving too slowly.
In comparison, Israel’s Covid vaccine rollout has been the fastest in the world. As of early February 2021, more than 35 percent of its population has been vaccinated. Unlike the U.S., Israel established a national vaccination registry, which makes record-keeping a lot easier. Israel, though, is facing growing criticism for excluding Palestinians from its vaccination efforts.
The United States took a more decentralized approach to its rollout, which has left states to develop distribution plans on their own. And it’s causing some problems.
What went wrong with the U.S. coronavirus vaccine rollout
On May 15th, 2020, the Trump administration launched Operation Warp Speed to accelerate development, production and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines. Its goal was to have 20 million Americans vaccinated by the end of 2020. The Trump administration turned the reins over to the states. State and local health officials were left to piece together a massively complicated rollout operation without federal guidance or additional resources.
That really requires an assembly line like set up. It requires several weeks of planning. And for places that don’t have all of that infrastructure and that expertise, they really need more technical assistance from the federal government. Unfortunately, Operation Warp Speed only really seemed to focus on the science. And ultimately the development and approval of these vaccines. But not the logistics around distribution and administration.
When the rollout began in December 2012, state and local officials ran into a slew of logistical issues. And many locations lack the resources to distribute vaccines smoothly. In many states, they have just hacked away at local public health budgets to the point where people are using fax machines and Windows 98 to try and communicate and to log their data.
The rollout also began over the holiday season, which led to more complications, especially surrounding limited staffing. The growing pains led to some high profile mistakes. In December 2020, 42 people in West Virginia were accidentally given a monoclonal antibody treatment for coronavirus rather than the vaccine.
Many state and local leaders now say that their distribution operations have gotten more efficient since the rollout began. In fact, West Virginia has become one of the leading states in the country when it comes to vaccinations. Even though states have begun ironing out logistical issues, they are still facing another big problem.
They don’t have enough vaccines
The biggest challenge we face right now here is supply of the vaccine, we just can’t get it. There’s no question we have an enormous supply demand imbalance. 23,000 people couldn’t get a vaccination because the supply didn’t arrive. If you take the calculation of what the county is getting each week and you just look at the number of health care workers and seniors, we won’t get through them until June. The issue surrounding vaccine supplies started a few weeks into the rollout when state officials said the federal government unexpectedly slashed the number of Pfizer vaccine doses the White House had told them to expect.
How a new White House plans to turn things around
The Department of Health and Human Services said states had confused the initial numbers the government had provided them with the actual allotment the states were going to receive. HHS said the initial numbers were meant for planning purposes only. And were not exact figures. This forced states to scramble and come up with new plans. On January 12th, 2021, the CDC expanded its Covid vaccine guidelines, suggesting states allow everyone 65 years and older to receive a vaccine.
As a result, more than half of states expanded eligibility. The Trump administration then said it would release all of the vaccine doses the government had been holding in reserve. But The Washington Post reported that the vaccine reserve had already been exhausted when the administration made that announcement.
Governors and local officials around the country said the lack of supply forced them to cancel vaccination appointments that people had made in advance. The Biden administration announced on January 26, 2021, that the federal government was working to purchase an additional 200 million vaccine doses from Pfizer and Moderna. In order to get nearly every American fully inoculated by the summertime. There’s also hope for Johnson & Johnson single shot vaccine candidate. Which released promising results from its clinical trials on January 29th, 2021.
A single shot vaccine would make logistics much easier and could seriously speed up the process. But there’s still the issue of locating the vaccine supply that’s currently missing around the country. And that will be a key challenge for the Biden administration.
Americans are not ready
Another big hurdle to mass vaccination is persuading hesitant Americans to take the vaccine. A survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that about a quarter of Americans either don’t want to get vaccinated or remain on the fence about it. The survey also found that Republicans and black Americans were among the most hesitant groups. The sentiment is not just in the U.S. More than 35 percent of people in France and Poland say they don’t plan to get the vaccine once it becomes available, according to a YouGov study published in January 20 21.
The main reason they won’t take the vaccine is because they wanted to wait to see if it’s safe. Vaccine hesitancy is less of an issue at the beginning of a process. But there have already been signs people are unsure about getting the vaccine. Ohio Governor Mike DeWine said about 60 percent of nursing home workers in his state have declined to be vaccinated.
He said this was especially concerning considering it would make high risk elderly Americans more susceptible to contracting the virus.
Joe Biden’s Vaccine Rollout Actions
With the vaccine rollout in the United States has been a dismal failure thus far. President Joe Biden announced the administration’s national strategy to combat the pandemic. He set a target of administering 100 million doses within the first 100 days of his presidency. And hopes to institute a $20 billion national vaccination program to help accomplish it. Biden says he will deploy FEMA and the National Guard to work with state. And local officials to build mass vaccination clinics across the country. As well as deploy mobile units to rural and underserved areas. He also says he plans to make the vaccine available free of charge, regardless of a person’s immigration status. And help strengthen data systems and transparency surrounding the vaccination process.
Massive deployment like this often goes through a phase where we learn the mistakes, learn how to make the operations work. And it’s very common in massive deployments to have this sort of period where things look relatively flat.