When a New York nurse became the first person in the U.S. to receive the much-anticipated COVID-19 vaccine, even President Trump’s critics heralded the moment as a victory in the fight against the virus that has killed 350,000 Americans. It seemed a partial vindication of Trump’s reliance on vaccines rather than social distancing and mask mandates to contain the pandemic.
Just three weeks later, however, the country’s vaccine roll-out is an utter mess. The federal government is chiefly to blame, but states and local officials, all of whom had many weeks to prepare for what everyone knew would be a massive logistical challenge, have been caught tragically flat-footed as well.
There is no federally coordinated vaccine plan. No cohesive system for getting vaccines into the arms of people desperate for protection. The United States hasn’t even launched a nationwide vaccination awareness campaign. Our airwaves should have been saturated weeks ago with a Smokey Bear or Don’t Mess with Texas-type campaign urging confidence in the vaccine. Imagine posters of Rosie the Riveter rolling her shirt only a bit higher for her life-saving shot in the arm. “We can do it!” she would exclaim anew.
President Trump put a U.S. Army general in charge of the large-scale vaccination distribution, bragging of military precision and pledging to “deploy every plane, truck and soldier required.” He promised 100 million doses would be available by the end of 2020, a figure administration officials later reduced to 20 million.
The vaccines arrived behind schedule and with no apparent coordination with state and local officials for distribution.
By late Tuesday, just 17.02 million doses had been distributed and only 4.84 million people had received their first, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
That’s not only disgraceful. It has cost lives.
The federal government has simply foisted responsibility for the vaccine rollout onto states, which in turn, passed the buck to a patchwork of overburdened, under-resourced local public health agencies, hospitals, pharmacies and private providers.
Trump’s vaccine development initiative, Operation Warp Speed, gave government officials months to prepare.
The current pace of vaccinations falls far short of what is needed to achieve herd immunity, which experts say requires vaccinating about 80 percent of the U.S. population or about 240 million people. To reach that level by summer, about 1.5 million people would have to be vaccinated per day, Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, told the editorial board.
Hotez likened the federal vaccine distribution to dropping off 40 million boxes of IKEA furniture with a sign saying “assembly required.”
That needs to change quickly. Continued confusion will discourage already skeptical people from getting immunized, squander scarce vaccines and allow the virus to kill many more Americans.
President-elect Joe Biden has pledged a goal of 100 million vaccinations in his first 100 days, an encouraging sign.
But the nation can’t wait for Biden to take the helm. Trump officials must immediately address glitches, establish clear communication channels and stick to something resembling a plan.
Gov. Greg Abbott must make getting vaccines out to Texans his top priority, and local agencies must learn quickly from missteps.
There must also be clearer communication of who is eligible for vaccines and where to get shots.
There is no time to waste — and nothing more pressing. The virus has already claimed too many lives. It doesn’t need the help of a bungled vaccine campaign to kill more.
Today’s editorial is from The Houston Chronicle. The views expressed are not necessarily those of this newspaper.