It’s been 13 months since China shut down a region of 18 million people because of the rapid human-to-human transfer of a new strain of coronavirus. It’s been a year since the World Health Organization declared a global health emergency because of the spread of the coronavirus and COVID-19, the disease it causes. It’s been 11 months since Gavin Newsom became the first governor to order a statewide lockdown. It’s been eight months since the U.S. recorded its first 100,000 deaths from the pandemic. And it’s been four months since Dr. Anthony Fauci — the federal government’s leading infectious disease expect — expressed optimism that effective vaccines would soon be available.
Against this backdrop, it is stunning that local, state and federal authorities have had a poor start getting vaccines approved two months ago into the arms of Americans. This week, Fauci said 70 percent to 85 percent of the U.S. population should be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before the U.S. can “get back to normal.” Only about 2 percent of Americans are fully vaccinated now, and another 6 percent are partially vaccinated. The road remains long.
This is an unprecedented high-stakes vaccination effort involving multiple government bureaucracies, with distance learning, economic hardship and family separations wreaking havoc on all of our health. History will record that humanity rose to the occasion on the hardest part of the effort — getting vaccines approved and ready for arms in record time — but bungled the easier part — the logistics. January saw record COVID-19 deaths in the United States (a trailing indicator, to be sure) — but January also saw more than half the vaccinations supplied to states in storage, not being administered.
Israel, on the other hand, has used every vaccine available on a daily basis and loosened eligibility rules at the end of the day to prevent unfrozen doses from being wasted. The nation’s policy was adopted before the vaccines even became available.
Meanwhile, in the U.S. and in California, the rollout has been erratic and problematic, with communities of color disproportionately suffering from the disease but being vaccinated less than White Americans and plans shifting on who should get vaccinated when. Much could’ve been settled on earlier.
Amid America’s ongoing conversation about systemic racism, it is inconceivable that black and Latino residents of San Diego County have gotten vaccines at less than half their proportion of the population. The local NAACP is right to see this as one more example of American apathy about the well-being of people of color. Our leaders need to do much better on this and so many related issues.
In conversations countywide and countrywide, people are offering ideas that might — and still could — improve the vaccination process: mobile distribution centers that could deliver vaccines to housebound and other seniors, express lanes at mass vaccination sites for the elderly, an organized system of volunteers who can safely drive people to sites, a massive public relations campaign across every medium of diverse groups of people touting the benefits of — and receiving — shots. Yet government agencies struggle with lines and complaints.
User-friendly websites to schedule vaccinations should have been set up long ago. The concept of vaccination “superstations” at stadiums and college parking lots should have also been in place well before vaccines arrived. The fact that the most at-risk group — older people with pre-existing health conditions — may also be the least tech-savvy should have been addressed by getting them information through AMBER Alert-style phone messages and mail or notes sent through utility bills.
Much has been made — properly so — of the failure of the George W. Bush administration to stop Osama bin Laden’s terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. The attacks killed 3,000 Americans. This week, the pandemic death toll topped 450,000 — 150 times as many deaths as from 9/11. Hundreds of thousands more could die. This requires a reckoning. But first this requires a better job being done, immediately. — SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE