Save COVID-19 vaccine rollout by injecting speed, simplicity and flexibility

You’re reading Our View, one of two perspectives in Today’s Debate. For Another View, read “Don’t sacrifice equity for efficiency.” With COVID-19 deaths in the USA rapidly approaching 400,000 and new variants of the virus spreading, nothing is more important than quickly inoculating vulnerable Americans. But the vaccine rollout is […]

You’re reading Our View, one of two perspectives in Today’s Debate.

For Another View, read “Don’t sacrifice equity for efficiency.”

With COVID-19 deaths in the USA rapidly approaching 400,000 and new variants of the virus spreading, nothing is more important than quickly inoculating vulnerable Americans. But the vaccine rollout is being hamstrung by unnecessary bureaucracy and complexity.

Websites for inoculation enrollment have crashed. Phone calls have gone unanswered. Senior citizens camped out all night in Florida for limited first come, first shots. In New York, they waded through 51-step online application forms only to have no one get back to them. In some cases, prized vaccine doses have been thrown out by medical providers who couldn’t find the precisely correct recipients under rigid applicability tiers fashioned by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Some confusion is inevitable, especially when demand exceeds supply. According to CDC data, however, of the 31.2 million doses distributed as of Friday morning, only 12.3 million had been administered. President-elect Joe Biden last week called his predecessor’s efforts “a dismal failure” and promised 100 million vaccinations in his first 100 days.

Pfizer and Moderna orders

Even with the two-dose requirement, that’s doable with the volume of vaccines on order from Pfizer and Moderna through March. But it will mean broadening standards to vaccinate more people more quickly, potentially sidestepping the CDC’s first-this-then-that-group guidelines. It will likely mean emphasizing speed and flexibility over rigid adherence to complex categories. And it will mean the federal government working more closely with states and localities, not simply dumping doses on them.

Ideas to consider:

Make access broad and simple. The Trump administration — and Biden last Friday — wisely urged stfates to vaccinate people 65 and older, a group far more likely likely to die from COVID-19 than younger people. Using easy-to-verify age brackets is both scientifically sound and less complicated, and many states are already buying into it.

Widening the pool of recipients raises the stakes on guaranteeing a steady flow of vaccines and avoiding, as much as possible, the need to stockpile precious doses to fulfill second-shot requirements. That is where Biden’s promise Friday to fully implement the Defense Production Act and boost vaccine production is vital.

Particularly in dealing with older populations, the vaccine registration process has to be as easy as possible. It should not involve demands such as digitally uploading insurance cards. “We cannot require password protections and computer sign up’s or tech literacy to enroll Americans in vaccination programs,” tweeted Dr. Peter Hotez, an expert on tropical diseases and vaccine development. “We have to stop throwing up roadblocks.”

Lining up for a COVID-19 vaccination on Jan. 5, 2020, in Fort Myers, Florida.
Lining up for a COVID-19 vaccination on Jan. 5, 2020, in Fort Myers, Florida.

Learn from mistakes and best practices. New York’s decision to impose hefty fines on any medical provider who didn’t adhere to strict prioritization protocols was why doses were dumped in the trash when recipients couldn’t be found. That mistake has since been corrected. In fact, providers need flexibility. When a refrigerator failed at a California hospital, all 850 Moderna vaccines were administered in emergency fashion at a nursing home, county jail and the general public.

Lessons can be learned from states like West Virginia, where heavy reliance on the National Guard and a network of pharmacies has led to the nation’s highest rate of vaccine use — more than 65% of those in stock.

Be transparent and instill urgency. Biden also promised Friday full public disclosure on the flow of vaccines from production to the states, something nonexistent under the Trump administration and an absolute requirement to know whether goals are being met.

There’s no time to wait. Every vaccine administered potentially saves a life or spares someone the agony of long-haul COVID-19. Where supplies are sufficient, inoculation ought to be a 24/7 process. The virus doesn’t take weekends and holidays off, and neither should the vaccination program.

USA TODAY’s editorial opinions are decided by its Editorial Board, separate from the news staff and the USA TODAY Network. Most editorials are coupled with an Opposing View, a unique USA TODAY feature.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Save COVID-19 vaccine rollout: Inject speed, simplicity, flexibility

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