The inequitable vaccine rollout will delay return to normalcy

By Megan Loock

Elm Staff Writer

On Dec. 11, 2020, the Food and Drug Administration approved the Pfizer vaccine for emergency use, according to BBC News

The approval came just after the Trump Administration placed an immense amount of pressure on the commissioner of the FDA, Dr. Stephen Hahn, to “consider looking for a next job if he didn’t get the emergency approval for the vaccine by Friday,” according to the New York Times

The rollout of the vaccine was a miracle — a spotlight of hope worldwide. 

However, considering that it took Trump threatening the commissioner’s career to approve the vaccine for use, it is unsurprising that the current rollout is a mess of unfairness and inequity.  

On Jan. 12, the Trump Administration made changes to their vaccine rollout plan, releasing all available doses to the states. They also urged states to prioritize adults who are aged 65 years and older, according to The Washington Post

“Since vaccine distribution began in the U.S. on Dec. 14, more than 44 million doses have been administered, reaching 10.2% of the total U.S. population, according to federal data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The U.S. is currently administering around 1.5 million shots a day,” NPR’s Pien Huang and Audrey Carson said. 

These decisions are reaping historic numbers, but not in the way that many of us had hoped. 

While many Americans are eagerly awaiting their turn to receive the vaccine, others are circumventing their state’s rules or tapping their connections to receive their dose prematurely, according to the Wall Street Journal

Both my grandmother and grandfather fall under the prioritized high-risk groups. They’ve been trying to get vaccinated since the COVID-19 vaccine’s approval by the FDA in December of 2020. 

Like many people across the nation, I haven’t seen my grandparents since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Being forced to watch as low-risk groups—those who are not over 65 years old, healthy, and non-essential workers—take advantage of a system intended to prioritize those who need it most is disturbing. 

On Jan. 15, the Trump Administration announced that “the government expects the two companies producing vaccines, Moderna and Pfizer, to supply between eight and 12 million vaccine doses per week to the American public over the next several weeks,” according to The New York Times. 

However, Gov. Kate Brown of Oregon tweeted on Jan. 15 that “States will not be receiving increased shipments of vaccines from the national stockpile next week, because there is no federal reserve of doses.” 

But according to The Washington Post, the stockpile of second shots does not exist, for the Trump administration exhausting their supply at the end of December.

“Governors were told repeatedly by [Department of Health and Human Services] there was a strategic reserve of vaccines, and this week, the American people were told it’d be released to increase supply of vaccine,” Gov. Jake Inslee of Washington tweeted in response to Brown’s statement.

“We are registered with the County health department but actually getting scheduled to get a shot is the luck of the draw,” Roger Ralph, my grandfather, said. “There simply is not enough vaccine supply in Florida and insufficient distribution points.” 

According to CNN, President Joe Biden and his administration entered the White House without a distribution plan provided by the Trump administration. 

With all of this contradicting information in mind, it is more than fair to call the federal COVID-19 vaccination plan confusing — in fact, that would be an understatement. This confusion could have been avoided. 

“We’re not the vaccine police,” Max Reiss, spokesman for Connecticut Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont, said. “We’re putting a lot of trust in local providers to make sure they’re vaccinating the most at-risk people in their communities.”

However, if Joann Fabrics is allowed to require proof of identification for teachers to get a store discount, so can state governments. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci told Today News on Feb. 11 that April will be “open season” for COVID-19 vaccinations — meaning that all groups will be able to get shots.

But what does “open season” mean when high-risk groups are still struggling to be prioritized? If those in low-risk groups do not do their part to ensure that those in high-risk groups have vaccination priority, this inequitable system will continue. As a result, our desire for normalcy will be delayed even longer.

We need a federalized plan that staggers the distribution and holds states accountable for their rollout plans. This, along with patience and selflessness, will allow the vaccine to be distributed in a timely and effective manner.

Featured Photo caption: The Kent County Community Center in Worton, Md. is one of several vaccination sites that has been established near Chestertown. Photo by Marah Vain Callahan.

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