Where is My Vaccine?
Herd immunity is the idea that if enough people in a population are vaccinated (or have developed immunity through contracting an ailment), it would be possible to prevent the further spread of the virus. By one estimate, 80% of Americans, or 264 million people, would need to be inoculated for the nation to officially reach herd immunity. It would take around 9 months to vaccinate that many Americans if we vaccinate one million people per day. Even then, there will continue to be local infections as long as not everyone is vaccinated. Although the chances at achieving herd immunity seem depressingly slim, scientists around the country continue to press for this goal.
The current priorities for vaccination are the frontline and essential workers, along with those over 65 and those with pre-existing conditions. Frontline workers are people with occupations in nursing homes, hospitals, first responder vehicles, food production, food preparation and serving, transportation, and sales. Essential workers are those in education, office work, and other jobs that demand close contact with others. Around 2.4 million teachers have already gotten their first round of the vaccine dosage, including several at Edgemont. In many states, the governors ordered that hospitals and vaccination centers should only vaccinate those with priority status, which resulted in many doses left untouched or tragically thrown away. Recently, the government has encouraged more citizens to line up for the vaccine, and in hopes of reducing waste, they are giving the doses to even those who are not considered a priority.
Many problems occurred while trying to distribute the Covid-19 vaccine. As with the testing protocols, every state is different. Some states have people book appointments online and then show up to a clinic or hospital. In these cases, trouble emerged when a lot of people tried to sign up online at the same time, and appointments dwindled while many sites crashed. Other states have a “first come, first serve” method of delivery, where anyone who is eligible can come line up in person. This leads to people waiting in line for hours, only to face disappointment when the vaccine doses run out.
The former Health and Human Services Secretary, Alex Azar, mentioned a stockpile of “second dose” vaccines, which turned out to have already been depleted. Additionally, many states did not receive the amount of doses that they were initially expecting, causing further delay and leading to the cancellation of many appointments. The previous Trump administration promised to deliver 20 million doses by the end of 2020, but only 5 million doses were actually administered.
To address these deficiencies, many more resources and increased effort need to be devoted to streamline the vaccine distribution. According to the new administration’s National Strategy for the Covid-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness, it plans to: “expand vaccine manufacturing and purchase Covid-19 vaccine doses for the U.S. population by fully leveraging contract authorities, including the Defense Production Act; deploy onsite support to monitor contract manufacturing operations; and purchase additional FDA-authorized vaccines to deliver as quickly as possible.” As of January 23 2021, 19 million doses have been administered and the rate of distribution is projected to increase further.
President Biden has promised 100 million more shots in his first 100 days of office, and millions of citizens are relying on this promise. Right now, around 900,000 shots a day are being used, and if this current trend continues, everyone eligible will become vaccinated by January 2022. While the goal seems achievable, many health experts say that we should aim for 2.5 million shots a day, so that everyone can be protected against the virus before 2021 summer.
Distribution is not the US’s only challenge in dealing with Covid-19. As viruses are constantly mutating, new variants will emerge, as they already have. We need to know whether or not the approved vaccines and therapies are still effective against these variants. Current research showed that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine can protect against the more communicable UK strain, but there is no data about the Moderna vaccine yet. There is also no available information to date about the Brazilian and South African strains and their effect on the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. Convelesnt plasma, an approved treatment for Covid-19, has already shown to be less effective against the South African variant. Likewise, Eli-Lily’s therapeutic is less efficacious with the South African variant.
All this evidence suggests that we should be more cautious with our hopes and plans for returning to normal life.
As a country, we are racing against time as more and more people are infected with these new variants. It is also crucial that the international community, politicians and scientists alike collaborate and learn from the failures and mistakes regarding the distribution of the vaccine, so that we can win this race. Hopefully by the end of 2021, the majority of the world’s population will be vaccinated so that life may possibly return to some semblance of normality.