We Can Do Better, and We Will: COVID-19 Vaccination and Relief

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For the first time in nearly a year, vaccination against COVID-19 has provided a glimmer of hope that we will indeed return to normal, and the nightmarish loss of life will cease. However, as the dust of excitement has cleared, many citizens are frustrated with the vaccine distribution strategies employed by state and local governments, worrying about the fairness of these processes and what this means for the United States as a whole.  

However, as the dust of excitement has cleared, many citizens are frustrated with the vaccine distribution “strategies employed by state and local governments, worrying about the fairness of these processes and what this means for the United States as a whole. ”

While the overall objectives of the vaccination distribution process at the national level are solid, their execution leaves much to be desired. The National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine recommended prioritizing the vaccination of “high-risk health care workers, first responders, people with two or more underlying medical conditions, and older adults in long-term care facilities or other overcrowded settings”. This strategy simultaneously targets those most likely to acquire the disease or be more severely affected and those most likely to spread it to others. This framework was adopted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine advisory group.  

However, states and local governments are deviating from these guidelines at various degrees. For example, Florida and Texas are prioritizing all adults over 65 years old in the first group to be immunized. While these people are the most susceptible to serious illness, it could be argued that vaccinating first responders and other essential workers is a more effective use of resources as these people interact more with others, having the potential to infect more people. 

man wearing blue scrub suit and mask sitting on bench
States like Florida and Texas are prioritizing the vaccination of 65 year old and older individuals. Despite these individuals being the most susceptible to the virus, a more effective use of the vaccine would be to distribute it to first responders, as these groups tend to interact more with possible carriers of the virus, and could potentially infect many other individuals when they leave work. Photo by Jonathan Borba on Pexels.com

In addition, logistics of vaccine distribution have created loopholes that have allowed some to cheat the system in order to be immunized early. Some states are employing the help of national grocery stores and pharmaceutical companies to quicken distribution, however, some companies have told reporters that they do not plan to check IDs prior to vaccination to ensure a person even qualifies by age. 

There have been cases in which the wealthy or those with other advantages have tried to bribe their way into immunization. For example, a 22-year-old student in Philadelphia who received a contract to run the city’s vaccine distribution sign-up brought home 4 doses to give to his friends. Dr. Huizenga, who runs a practice in Beverly Hills, has been offered more than $10,000 (including by some members of the entertainment industry) for a vaccine. Dr. Ed Goldberg, who runs a practice in Manhattan, has received calls from people wanting to join his practice for a vaccine. 

“During the polio outbreak in the 1950s, some doctors falsely claimed that black children were less susceptible than white children to the disease, with some centers refusing to treat them. Once the vaccine was created, black children were even forced to wait outside and receive vaccination on the lawns of white schools, contributing to a culture of distrust in the medical system.”

In addition to individual cases of corruption, we must be diligent that disadvantaged groups are not left out of the equation as they have been in the past. During the polio outbreak in the 1950s, some doctors falsely claimed that black children were less susceptible than white children to the disease, with some centers refusing to treat them. Once the vaccine was created, black children were even forced to wait outside and receive vaccination on the lawns of white schools, contributing to a culture of distrust in the medical system. It has been shown that African American, Hispanic and Native American groups have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 due to a variety of factors. It is crucial for these groups, and for the safety of the nation as a whole, that vaccine distribution intentionally targets regions with these populations that are often far from major medical centers. 

Thankfully, the Biden administration is taking steps to address these concerns. Biden has called the slow rollout of vaccines “a dismal failure” and claims that this will be met with action similar to that in wartime. He has proposed $1.9 trillion for pandemic relief, including $20 billion in funds for the distribution of vaccines. Biden will be receiving help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. military for the distribution process and has “pledged to also work with community-based organizations and trusted health care providers to make sure people in marginalized and medically-underserved communities quickly get access to the vaccine”. Relief is on the way. It is up to us to continue doing our part to slow the spread of COVID-19 and to hold the government accountable to their part: distributing the vaccine in a fair, consistent manner that treats all citizens with dignity and respect. 

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