COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution

Image courtesy of the British Broadcasting Corporation

By Isabelle Aquilina (‘23)

With the anticipation of the COVID-19 vaccine, an important issue comes to mind: how will the order of distribution be determined? Many of us know at least one person who has gotten the vaccine or is scheduled to. The U.S. is leading the global vaccination campaign, with 5.2 vaccines administered per 100 people with a total of 17,176,247 doses, behind only Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom. The vaccines ordered by the U.S. are made up mostly of the Oxford, Moderna, and Pfizer vaccines. The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, which have the highest success rates, were approved by the FDA under emergency jurisdictions. This is true for most counties. Specifically, the U.S. has pre-ordered around 1 billion vaccines from a variety of companies to ensure that immunization is achieved as fast as possible. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended a global order for distribution that may be used by international governments. This recommendation is not always followed and issues seem to occur with disorganization in several countries. The next question hangs in the air with the inauguration of a new president: how has the U.S. taken steps to distribute the vaccine, and what limitations has the previous plan shown? 

The CDC’s recommendations consist of three sub-phases: 1a, 1b, and 1c. The first phase involves vaccinating those who are most at risk for infection and death after being exposed to the virus. Phase 1a consists of healthcare workers and long-term care facility patients. The CDC strictly recommends this step be prioritized and highlights the importance of fully completing this phase before moving onto the next phases. The next sub-phase, 1b, prioritizes citizens over age 75, since they are the most at risk of dying, and essential workers, such as firefighters, police officers, postal workers, food and agricultural workers, and those in education. The CDC does not enforce the division between Phase 1b and 1c as it did between 1a and 1b because the divide between these two phases is not as significant. Phase 1c consists of vaccinating those aged 65-75 years and also people aged 16-64 years who have underlying health conditions. Phase 1c also includes vaccinating other essential workers in departments such as food service, transportation, and energy. This detailed plan has been used by many to govern vaccine distribution. However, after the transition of power to President Biden, the issues with the prior president’s plan have become more evident when compared to these recomendations. 

The Biden Administration plans to drastically increase the number of COVID vaccines available to Americans. Members of the administration have criticized Former President Trump for his plan, saying it must be completely rebuilt. At of the end of the former president’s term, the US  was fourth in the world in terms of vaccines per 100 people. The Trump administration’s goal fell about 17 million Americans short of their initial goal. Since the inauguration, daily vaccine doses have gone up, and President Biden has set a high goal of 1.5 million vaccines per day. However, as rates increase, the distribution fluctuates in different states within the US. This can be seen in Alaska’s 9.34 vaccines per 100 people versus Alabama’s 2.84. The discrepancy may be attributed to the lack of consistency in the former plan, as President Trump focused on simply delivering vaccines across the country but left state governments to deal with distribution. Many state governments have used the CDC’s recommendation for vaccine distribution, however some were outliers such as Florida where the governor prioritized seniors and created a “first-come-first-served” plan that has left many minorites and poorer communities excluded. Ron Klain, Biden’s chief of staff, stated that a plan to vaccinate the communities in the US was virtually nonexistent when President Biden took office. The lack of direction may prove to be detrimental to supplying many vaccines, such as the Pfizer vaccine, which must be kept in specific conditions to remain effective. Some health care professionals have seen a loss in doses when those with scheduled appointments do not show up. In fact, hundreds of vaccine doses are forced to be thrown out for that reason and only about half of the total sent across the US have actually ended up being administered. The difference seen in Biden’s administration is a definite plan officially set out and an amending of the relationship between the U.S. and the CDC. Overall, the inauguration of a new president may see some welcome changes to the steps to immunization and the entirety of the pandemic management in the U.S. 

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