Thanks to the incredible dedication of scientists across the globe and an unprecedented allocation of focus and resources, vaccinations for the COVID-19 virus were developed in record time. But in the days and weeks that have followed the first wave of vaccine authorizations by the Food and Drug Administration, muddled and disorganized bureaucracy and in some cases, corruption and outrage sabotage have replaced the urgency of medical science, putting the extraordinary progress in danger of being squandered.
The broad numbers are flat out disastrous. Pfizer’s COVID vaccine was approved on December 11th and Moderna’s vaccine was approved one week later. The White House’s Operation Warp Speed said that 20 million doses were supposed to be vaccinated by January 1st. As of Wednesday morning, less than 2.8 million Americans had been administered a dose of either vaccine, while just 12.4 million doses had been distributed to states, the White House conceded.
“Of course, we need to be doing a better job, but all vaccine programs start somewhat slow,” Assistant Secretary for Health Adm. Brett Giroir admitted to CNN on Wednesday.
Vice President Mike Pence, the head of the White House’s COVID-19 task force, was recently on a skiing vacation in Vail, Colorado.
At this pace, six million Americans will have been vaccinated by the end of January. At that point, the first doses will expire even when kept in the complicated deep-freezing system required for the Pfizer vaccine, which means that millions and millions of crucial doses of vaccine would go to waste.
Since vaccinations started in the US on December 14, more people have gotten immunity by catching COVID (≈ 3.0 million) than by getting the vaccine (≈ 2.6 million).
— John Arnold (@JohnArnoldFndtn) December 31, 2020
Further complicating matters is the way different states prioritize distribution. Each state is expected to come up with its own plan for distribution, leading to confusion and opportunities for corruption. While 2.1 million doses distributed have been earmarked for nursing homes and long-term care facilities, the CDC says just 167,149 places have been administered in those places thus far.
There have been reports of black market vaccine sales going to communities such as the Hasidic Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn, wealthy donors and executives paying huge sums of cash to “skip the line” and receive their vaccinations before higher priority groups, and early access for high-end healthcare patients within exclusive practices. In Wisconsin, an employee at a medical center removed 57 vials of the vaccine from the deep freezer, an act of sabotage inspired by misinformed and increasingly rampant anti-vaccine ideology; over 500 doses had to be discarded as a result.
The lack of centralized communication has kept people in the dark as to when they might be eligible to receive the vaccine. Doctors have scrambled to find out when they would receive vials, while pharmacies contracted by the FDA won’t be able to administer them to the general population until the first few waves of recipients have been inoculated.
Meanwhile, the virus continues to rage across the country. A record number of Americans have already died of COVID-19 in December, while 43 states are experiencing active/imminent outbreaks and four states are in the midst of severe outbreaks.