Vaccination is going slowly because nobody is in charge

By Ashish K. Jha | Source: Washington Post

Ashish K. Jha is a physician, health policy researcher and the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health.

Vaccine development for covid-19 has occurred at a remarkable pace, thanks in large part to the careful work of the scientific community, both in the United States and around the globe. Operation Warp Speed played a key role in accelerating the creation of vaccines without cutting corners, and producing millions of doses. As a result, the two vaccines that have been authorized by the Food and Drug Administration are safe and highly effective against the disease. That’s why we want them to reach people’s immune systems as quickly as possible — and why the current delays in getting people vaccinated are so disappointing.

Let’s start with a quick recap: As recently as early October, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said we’d have 100 million doses of vaccine by the end of 2020. One month later, that was reduced to 40 million doses. As recently as Dec. 21, Vice President Pence, the head of the White House coronavirus task force, said that we were on track to vaccinate 20 million Americans by Dec. 31. Unfortunately, 20 million doses haven’t even gotten to the states. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting that we have vaccinated about 2.6 million people. Assuming the reporting lags by a few days, we might be at 3 or 4 million total.

This is striking. We’ve known for months that vaccines were coming. We know that vaccines only work when people get vaccinated. Every dose of vaccine not given risks more illness and potential death. The failure to vaccinate more quickly is tragic given that more than 3,000 Americans are dying of covid-19 every day. At the current rate, we will surpass 400,000 deaths by Inauguration Day.

Operation Warp Speed now says it aims to vaccinate all Americans by June. But we will not get there unless we understand what is happening and what we need to do to fix it.

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