Saturday, I learned a Mt. Hope friend was on a ventilator, hospitalized with COVID-19 and had suffered a heart attack. It doesn’t look good. My friend is of an age, as am I, that made him eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine last week.
However, that might not have saved him, as it’s near impossible to get a vaccine appointment.
I spent an hour and a half of my life Thursday calling the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department trying to secure one of the vaccines. I used my best “be the 10th caller” dialing technique in completing 150 dials. No appointment.
I was told 15 telephone lines would be available, although I didn’t find out until later that only so many doses were available. If each call took two minutes, then the appointments could have been exhausted in an hour.
Many people throughout the country, as well, have been disappointed that more doses were not available. The Trump administration promised 20 million by the end of 2020.
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a Jan. 12 report that the federal government would open access to every COVID-19 vaccine dose on hand, rather than keep any as a backup.
Azar said, “We had been holding back second doses as a safety stock, but we now believe that our manufacturing is predictable enough that we can ensure second doses are available for people from ongoing production, so everything is now available for our states and our health care providers.”
He continued, “It has been overly hospitalized so far in too many states. We have the vaccine. ... We have supplies that have not yet been ordered.”
Yet within three days of that statement, several governors said they had learned that there is no reserve because they were expended before Azar made his announcement.
So, here we are. Waiting.
The feds say they’ve distributed far more doses than the states have used, leaving vaccines on the shelf. Public health experts say the Trump administration’s coronavirus vaccine team seems to be sleepwalking through its final days.
Vaccine makers say it isn’t their fault.
“I don’t think that we have an issue of offering less vaccines than the countries frankly need. We have much more than they can use right now,” Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said.
Then, Reuters reported Friday that Pfizer does have second doses of COVID-19 shots on hand, and that it expects no U.S. supply problems. Pfizer said it has been holding on to second doses for each of its COVID-19 vaccinations at the request of the federal government.
Somewhere, something isn’t right.
As for West Virginia, Gov. Jim Justice was getting this news during his Friday coronavirus briefing. So, he isn’t sure how many doses the state will receive this week. Can’t blame him.
This comes as West Virginia considers expanded vaccinations to those over age 65 and as many 70-, 80- and 90-year-olds are still unable to get vaccination appointments.
Dr. Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, said some public health experts say they have struggled to see any part of the vaccine supply chain that is working well.
“Where is it being held up? Clearly, multiple places,” he said.
Bruce Y. Lee, a public health and health policy professor at City University of New York, said there is a need for more coordination by the feds, including better tracking of where doses go unused, how to solve problems such as shortages of syringes and people trained to administer vaccinations, and clear guidance about what a vaccinator should do when they have leftover doses from opened vials.
What’s the solution? Put the entire process under a unified command to speed it up. Don’t leave it up to states to figure it out, as President Donald Trump advocated.