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Terry H. Schwadron

Jan. 26, 2021

The new pandemic is confusion.

— If you are waiting for a coronavirus vaccine — if you’re going slowly nuts because you cannot make an appointment for a vaccine — you are hearing that we don’t have enough vaccines — especially since that seems the only way through this pandemic.

— If you’re the federal government, at least the holdovers from the outgoing administration, you think you’ve handed off to the various states everything you’ve been given — and all of that has not yet been injected into American arms.

— If you’re the state, you believe the feds have shined you on about what’s coming, and keeps changing both the rules and the numbers of dosages available. You can’t buy your own supply, and all you can see are rising numbers of cases, hospitalizations and deaths, not enough personnel or federal aid, and a lengthening list of complaints from your residents about not being able to make appointments smoothly. Some states have not used even half their allotted supply, reports The New York Times, while the rest are running short of doses.

Undoubtably, there is a lag in the manufacturing supply lines and the easy availability of vaccines. But why is that story so hard to communicate — to state officials and to you and me? Why can’t mask-wearing, public education and appointment-making efforts move ahead?

Even Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the incoming head for the Centers for Disease Control, said she doesn’t know exactly what the government has or the schedule for new arrivals — and it’s her new job.

Instead of clear information on a reliable schedule of deliveries and individual appointments, we’re getting a lot of mush from all parties. I filled out the same information four times to be eligible to make an appointment, annoying, but understandable for a English speaker ready to deal with bureaucracy.

Perhaps the incoming Joe Biden folks are right in saying that they walked into an Operation Warp Speed that was so focused on development that it missed planning how to get injections into arms. Perhaps Republican critics are right in already finding fault with Biden for low-balling his expectations for 100 million injections in 100 days, even as they work to withhold the federal funds to make sure it happens. Perhaps state officials are taking too long to set up local distribution points to ensure inoculations.

I don’t care whose fault it is. Getting a match between the supply lines and inoculations is pretty basic: Just ask any mayor who can’t get the streets cleared in a snowstorm. I just want the vaccines manufactured as soon as they can, delivered efficiently and available without too many complications and plenty of abundant information. More, I expect that it should be done. That’s why we have a government.

It’s Getting Worse

At 420,000 American deaths from coronavirus, we just passed another milestone, eclipsing American combat deaths in World War I, II and other wars; daily deaths are spiking across the country.

I like that Biden is bringing the full attention of the government to the problems, and I’m willing to give enough slack to a new group to come in to make sense of where we are. I’m impressed that the incoming group has a more complete plan, and that Biden is communicating its urgency. I’m pleased to see early adoption of rules for masks, invocation of defense production powers to boost manufacture and pending approvals for two more vaccines.

I like that Biden’s acknowledgment that things will temporarily worsen before improving as a sign of honesty. My assumption is that within a week or two, once the Biden team is in place, we will have better information.

But the American way is to look at things from the consumer point of view. If it is easy for me to get the vaccine, it is good. If it is not, the system is screwed up.

Still, the constant repetitions on television interview shows about time predictions while data is missing for updated projections about just how many inoculations will be given three months from now just seem silly. It would take just a little work by the networks and news outlets to display information about scheduled deliveries of vaccines and to offer information about how to sign up in advance — news that we really could use.

States are just hearing today about whether there will be a delivery in the next three or four days. What kind of business or government agency operates efficiently on such stingy information?

The supply

What we do know is that Pfizer and Moderna need to scale up manufacturing to deliver an increasing schedule of doses to the federal government — or to other contracted countries; they don’t offer such information on their websites or announcements. Those two companies promised to deliver 100 million doses apiece to the United States by the end of March; to meet that goal will require faster manufacture, and Team Biden has promised help in providing raw materials.

In the last few weeks, they’ve each been delivering about 4.3 million doses a week, according to an NPR examination of vaccine allocation data. To hit their targets of 100 million doses on time, they each need to deliver 7.5 million doses a week for the next several weeks.

To date, the government has delivered 41 million doses to states, of 21 million have been administered once and 3 million twice — leaving 18m committed to individuals who already received one. There are 330 million or more in the country, though not all want a vaccine.

The companies need to increase manufacturing capacity or speed its processes. The government needs to do better coordination; the states need to streamline the information and appointment processes.

The FDA is expected to review Johnson & Johnson and Astro-Zeneca vaccine candidates in a couple of weeks, with each contracted for supply similar dosages.

The CDC widened recommendations for vaccine before matching them to the supply to the states. Interruptions and delays in inoculations were inevitable — just another notch in a belt of unnecessary confusions.

Nevertheless, it is likely that the promised dosages are in the current supply pipeline, since businesses would likely promise only if they could deliver — however, eventually

Plus, we understand that each vaccine comes with a commitment of a second dose. Following the numbers here, and straightening out the deliveries should not be difficult.

It is good news that so many people want the vaccine. We have work ahead of us with people who are hesitant about the vaccine or who still think Covid is a hoax.

Is it too much to ask for better information in a time of confusion?


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