Why Our Vaccine Confusion?
Terry H. Schwadron
Dec. 20, 2020
We continue to award laurels that two coronavirus vaccines are now formally ready and have started immediate distribution.
But, at the same time, we offer multiple darts over unnecessary confusion about whether the vaccines are actually getting out the door as promised — and whether U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar can tell the truth about what is being delivered and when. Even in citing poll numbers of those willing to take the vaccine, Azar had to double the number saying yes, that they would take it now.
Some of the confusion undoubtably is as a result of newness in these distributions, but the Donald Trump administration has been a lot quicker on taking credit for fast development of the vaccines and for claiming prowess in having developed a military-based distribution plan than we’re seeing in real life after the first week of vaccinations.
In fact, when pressed about gaps in deliveries of vaccine following a hidden, but supposedly careful distribution plan, we ended this first week with Azar insisting that Pfizer, the first manufacturer out the approval door, was already having production line problems, resulting in cuts in promised deliveries and immediate slowdowns in deliveries to the states.
And, at the same time, we heard from Pfizer that there were no production hang-ups, just unwarranted delay from the federal Health Department about where and when to send deliveries.
Governors and state health officials across the country, meanwhile, were wondering aloud about what is going on.
Finally, yesterday, Army Gen. Gustave Perna, who is overseeing the distribution task, said he was responsible for “miscommunication” with states. It seems that states were given estimates that turned out to be based on vaccine doses produced, not those that had completed quality control and were releasable. — but the FDA does not approve the drug by bathes.
Um, doesn’t that sound pretty basic; it certainly isn’t rocket — or medical — science. It sounds like not understanding the job at hand.
The question here is whether this once again is the gang that can’t deliver or inject straight, whether this is coordination incompetence, or whether there is a real hang-up that we don’t understand. It just seems unnecessarily complicated and once again undercutting of public trust.
Maybe it’s the flurry of numbers and heightened expectations that have created their own questions, though the singular fact is that in the first week, 270,000 Americans were vaccinated –with a long road yet to reach 330 million.
Maybe, as with the approval of the vaccines themselves, a few more days are not going to change the overall outcome. But why government officials at any level would allow confusion to spread at this moment rather than a steadying message that help is actually on the way is both baffling and disheartening.
From the consumer side of things, we seem to have contradictory messages all over the place:
— Multiple states are reporting that they are getting 40% or 50% fewer dosages of the Pfizer vaccine than were promised even a week or days ago — with no apparent explanation that makes sense. Obviously, they can’t line up the actual inoculations in multiple locations if they don’t know how many to arrange, along with providing the appropriate number of both refrigerants and injecting personnel. Can’t we do better than Azar blaming Pfizer and Pfizer blaming Azar?
— Two states, Alabama and California, learned that some deliveries were held up because they got extra cold, which seemed to defy the whole logic of keeping vaccines at super-cooled levels.
— No one is really explaining whether there is a choice for states or for the individuals being vaccinated about whether they get the Pfizer or the Moderna vaccine — or any of the others yet to follow, or whether there are different protocols to follow other than at what temperature to keep the vaccine.
— The numbers were small, but there were allergy-related reactions, enough to keep the anti-vaxx crowd and right-wing media busy with warnings about taking the vaccines. Donald Trump has avoided taking the spotlight to encourage people to take the vaccine, arguing, of course, that he himself is still on antibody protections from his own bout with coronavirus. Naturally, he sees the vaccine campaign is about him, not us. Trump’s own followers reflect a higher antipathy towards vaccination, say news reports.
— Even vaccinating nursing home residents — targets who don’t move — has been confusing. Despite the supposed careful planning over months, we were still learning this week that families of nursing home residents had not been lined up to grant permission. This has ended up in further delays of the vaccinations.
— On top of all else, here came the news that London was shutting down over the discovery of yet a new strain of COVID.
Since the focus, the endless tv images and the chatter have been about Nurse X who is getting the first of life-saving vaccines, there has been almost no mention of the other aspect of vaccinations this week — issuance of a card that says the vaccination occurred.
Admittedly, all these first inoculations are for front-line hospital medical staffers, nursing home residents and a certain sprinkling of prominent politicians. But I’m finding the lack of attention on the I’ve-Gotten-Vaccinated cards disconcerting.
Aren’t we going to be depending on these confirmation cards as proof that people can safely be returning to classrooms and workplaces? Isn’t this what is going to allow us to reopen restaurants and theaters safely? Hell, isn’t this how stadiums are going to allow big crowds back into football games?
Along with the actual inoculations, we need some way for people to show that they can be in indoor spaces again with lots of other people, right? So, when Rep. Ken Buck, R-CO, announces that he will not be vaccinated “because I am an American,” and don’t have to, he should accept being barred from the House floor and committee meetings.
At this point, and cognizant of the size of anti-vaccine feelings, shouldn’t we be demanding that employers and schools require the confirmation cards for our now hastened return to something like normalcy?
We ought to be making it clear to anti-vaxxers that it’s fine if they choose against taking the vaccine — so long as they will home-school and not expect to take part in joining in workplaces, theaters, arenas and restaurants.
Maybe we can Make America Less Contagious.