We’re all ready to be rid of the COVID-19 virus. Personally, I’m dreaming about the day I can sit in a crowded restaurant or be packed into a theatre to see a Broadway show, and now that we have a vaccine we should be able to get back to normal very soon right? Well, unfortunately, that’s not been the case. The United States is way behind schedule for inoculations. Federal officials and the Trump administration claimed they were prepared to vaccinate 20 million people by the end of 2020. As of January 14th, 2021, only 10.8 million doses have been given to U.S. residents. There are several reasons why the mass vaccination effort has not gotten off to a speedy start, but the main reason is under lack of planning by the federal government leading up to the first round of vaccinations.
When you do anything that’s going to involve 300+ million people, it would seem like a good idea to have a solid and detailed plan. Unfortunately, the federal government dropped the ball and sent millions of vaccines to states across the country that don’t have the means to distribute them on the scale suggested by the Federal Government. By leaving vaccine distribution efforts up to the state, the burden was placed on state and local healthcare systems that are already crumbling due to the immense amount of patients fighting COVID-19 in hospitals. During the week ending on January 7th, 80% of ICU beds in the United States were occupied, and that number is only expected to grow as cases continue to soar. As Dr. Travis Gaylse, a county health officer from Maryland puts it, “While we’re trying to roll out vaccinations, we’re also continuing the pandemic response by supporting testing, contact tracing, disease control and all of those other aspects of the Covid response” This lack of people-power and federal guidance has led to most states only being able to use under 40% of the vaccine doses they have been given.
Another question that has been a hot topic of debate is: who has priority status as the vaccine is distributed, and in what order do U.S. residents get inoculated? Many healthcare systems have been under fire for vaccinating non-frontline workers before their highest risk employees. World-renowned healthcare systems like New York University, Columbia University, Harvard, and Vanderbilt vaccinated young researchers that study unrelated ailments, technicians in basic research labs, and others who were not high-risk nor working in COVID-19 environments. The CDC clearly states that vaccines should be distributed to those working in environments where they could be exposed to the virus on a daily basis, and with many of those people not yet vaccinated in the health districts of these prestigious systems, there is no excuse for these occurrences. Even some of the young graduate students who received the vaccine regret taking a dose from others who definitely need it more, “I wish our elderly relatives had received the vaccine before me” said one student from Vanderbilt. Even in my small healthcare system in suburban/rural Virginia, there are issues with nonessential workers getting the vaccine through technicalities. The Board of Trustees at my local hospital all received the vaccine even though they are not practicing any type of medicine. They are technically “volunteers” at the Hospital and therefore could get on the list for vaccines.
It pains me to see people take advantage of the system, especially when it is affluent members of society who had the luxury of not putting themselves in danger while working during the pandemic. It’s no secret that minority communities have been hit the hardest by COVID-19. Black and Hispanic residents are more likely to develop severe cases of COVID due to general health issues that are more prevalent in people of color due to the systemic inequities in healthcare. Statistically, Black and Latinx identifying individuals are also more likely to be working jobs that are unable to happen from home, meaning they are more likely to become exposed to the virus than white individuals. It says a lot about our country that there are affluent, educated people knowingly using their place in society to benefit themselves, taking away opportunities for others in what could be life or death situations.
I’m hopeful that as local systems get their bearings, vaccine distribution will start to speed up. I’m also hopeful that Joe Biden and his administration will place a new emphasis on the process, as well as on overall COVID safety, that our current administration has failed so spectacularly at. With any luck, we’ll all be back in crowded restaurants and theatres by the fall.
By Andrew Kolar