Americans are desperate to get vaccinated against COVID. Yet only a third of the vaccine doses shipped to the states by the federal government are actually making it into people's arms. (Photo by Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)
Americans are desperate to get vaccinated against COVID. Deaths are soaring, and new strains of the virus, including the UK strain and a newly discovered US strain reported for the first time last week, are reported to be even more contagious. Doctors are warning that as the virus becomes more infectious, even a trip to the supermarket with a mask is risky. Survival hinges on getting vaccinated.
Yet only a third of the vaccine doses shipped to the states by the federal government are actually making it into people's arms. The public hears they may have to wait months. That is unacceptable.
Vaccine supply is not the problem. The US already has 400 million doses in total of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in the pipeline, enough to vaccinate 200 million people. (Both vaccines require a two-shot regimen.) In addition, this week, Johnson & Johnson announced it will be ready to seek FDA authorization for its vaccine by March. Initial results from its clinical trials indicate the same 90% plus efficacy as the Moderna and Pfizer products, and with only one shot.
The problem is that state and local authorities are bungling vaccine distribution.
In southern California, ICU beds are full and oxygen supplies are almost out. Doctors are scoring COVID patients based on overall health status and organ function, preparing to reserve treatments and ICU beds.
Yet California has managed to use only 28% of its vaccines. The rest sits on shelves. Arizona has used only 30%, although it has the highest infection rate in the US.
Every evening, New York's Governor Andrew Cuomo sends out an e-mail blast blaming the vaccine chaos in New York on inadequate supply from the federal government. It is a lie. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show New York is delivering only 37% of its vaccine supply into people's arms.
With vaccines available, many of the people who will die shortly from COVID could be saved. But New York's vaccine distribution is a chaotic mess. The New York State website had a sign up Friday that it was out of order due to "overwhelming demand." What did state officials expect? People are struggling to protect their lives. Two days earlier, the state vaccine hotline carried the same message.
The vaccine rollout has been a disaster because states failed to prepare, despite having months of warning. Cuomo's now telling unions to figure out how to vaccinate their members themselves. Last week New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio floated the idea of a mass vaccination site at Yankee Stadium, as if the challenge of distributing vaccines is new to him.
All this is proof that the states are failing miserably. It is time for a federal emergency mass vaccination program staged at malls, arenas and other public sites.
Sadly, members of Congress have ignored the pleas from desperate Americans. After all, they have received their shots. Over the din of their rancorous partisan debates, they need to be reminded that we need our shots.
On Friday, President-elect Joe Biden announced his plan to improve vaccination rates. It is modest. He promised 100 million shots in the first hundred days of his term. That will not do the job. It is barely half of what is needed. A staggering 1.8 million people a day need to be vaccinated between now and the end of May to achieve herd immunity by July, according to the American Hospital Association.
Biden pledged to mobilize the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other federal agencies to build more vaccination sites and provide federal employees such as military medical personnel to staff them. Again, a step in the right direction. He promised 100 sites. We shall probably require far more.
Biden stressed that he will need Congress's cooperation to fund this effort. For the last week, members of Congress did not see fit to spend even one minute tackling the life-threatening virus terrorizing the rest of us. No matter where you stand on the events at the Capitol, ignoring the vaccine crisis is unconscionable.
It is time to demand that our elected politicians turn to the public's number one concern and get the nation vaccinated.
Betsy McCaughey is chairman of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths and a former lieutenant governor of New York. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.