It’s been weeks since the COVID-19 vaccines began arriving at hospitals, clinics, and pharmacies. Operation Warp Speed—the U.S. vaccination development, testing, and distribution effort—had made 20 million vaccine doses available by the end of 2020. Yet the U.S. is only approaching 5.5 million vaccines administered so far.
For a closer look at the state of COVID-19 vaccination in the U.S., we’ve shared insights on what’s working, what needs to be improved, and how the fractured and decentralized U.S. health care system might be able to prepare for future national health care crises.
What is the current state of the vaccination effort in the U.S.?
We are experiencing the initial hiccups of vaccine distribution. Everyone is learning to appreciate the difficulty of getting the vaccines administered into people’s arms. We will almost certainly do better in a month or two, except that we don’t have the luxury of taking the time to perfect things.
As of now, The Medical Group of South Florida has done all the steps needed and has been approved to receive the vaccine. However, there is now time frame for when we will have these on hand. As we communicate with our patients, we will be in touch as soon as we have more information and appreciate everyone’s patience.
What have been the greatest hurdles to distribution that you’ve seen?
Right now, the vaccine distribution is taking more time than anticipated and there have been no set delivery expectations. The Medical Group of South Florida and many other medical offices are trying to keep their patients updated, but do not have any information to share. This has been the toughest hurdle we have experienced so far.
On another note, giving COVID-19 shots is different from giving flu shots—you have to ensure social distancing, have enough personal protective equipment, and people need to be observed for 15 minutes after getting a shot. When we do receive the vaccine, we will have specific procedures in place for staff, space, and time required for giving the shots.
Of course, there are other hurdles. One is that both the federal government and hospitals are holding back doses. The federal government does this to ensure enough second doses. Likewise, some hospitals are also holding back doses because they worry second doses may not arrive on time.
What else accounts for that disparity between doses received and doses administered, and how can it be corrected?
To correct the situation, states and local authorities need to take proactive actions and set up the widest possible network of distribution sites as more doses are available. It is important that our government engages all chain and independent pharmacies and standalone clinics that are capable of administering vaccines.
We have to rethink how we connect vaccines and people. At this time, the Palm Beach County appointment line is currently closed, and the only way you can request an appointment is by emailing the Florida Department of Health in Palm Beach County at email@example.com. We have notified patients and reminded them to include their name, phone number, and date of birth in their email.
If you are 65 and older we recommend getting the vaccine through the Palm Beach County Health Department. The Medical Group of South Florida is working diligently with the State of Florida and public officials to be able to provide a vaccine for our patients, but still do not have an update. The best thing we can do is add our patients to a COVID-19 vaccine waiting list and send updates once we have new information.
The U.K. has decided to administer single doses of vaccine to more people and to delay the four-week booster shot that is recommended. U.S. officials have come out against this strategy. Do you think the strategy has merits, and should it be adopted here in the U.S.?
The U.K.’s strategy has its merits as it will allow more people to get their first doses. In the case of the U.S., our issue at this moment is both the supply and the resources needed for administering. We hope authorities stop holding back the second doses to an unnecessary extent. Vaccine manufacturers are ramping up their production capacity, and we will almost certainly see an upward supply curve. They may need to hold back second doses when the general public has access to vaccines—when the supply curve flattens because demands increases, but not now. The Medical Group of South Florida would like to see more focus on fixing our vaccine supply chain and moving things faster.