The federal government’s announcement of a plan for how to distribute the eventual COVID-19 vaccine is good news for everyone.
On Aug. 13, we said on this page that the success of any vaccine would depend in large part on the planning that went into efforts to distribute it. If critical agencies failed to plan, the effort would also fail. It is comforting to see that the planning has indeed been taking place.
The plan, which was presented to Congress by federal health agencies and the U.S. Department of Defense, gave an outline of the steps that will be taken. It’s going to be a mammoth task. The vaccines will have to be transported properly and in huge numbers. The Associated Press reported that the military may be involved in the distribution side, “but civilian health workers would be the ones giving shots.”
The current pandemic poses challenges that were not present during mass inoculation efforts over the past century. Neither polio nor smallpox were easily communicable from one person to another. COVID-19 is, and that means bringing together in large numbers for the shots is not practical. The challenge of such large numbers and the requirement of small settings may well be unique to modern medical history.
Complicating the effort is the fact people will generally need two doses, and those doses have to be from the same manufacturer. The very real possibility of multiple vaccines receiving approval adds a logistical challenge beyond just getting a vaccine to distribution points.
Also in the AP article was the statement the vaccine will “be free of charge.” That’s because of funding approved by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump. We have also said recently that, when rival members of government succeed, there’s generally enough credit to go around. This is a good example of that being entirely true. There remains a question about whether administration of the vaccine will also be free, but the fact the vaccine itself is should lower a potential barrier.
With the federal government showing progress on this critical issue, it’s time for states and local governments to begin stepping up. Their challenge will be no less complicated. Indeed, it may be more so. Getting the vaccine to people in rural areas or to remote communities in inaccessible regions cannot be overlooked, and it will be difficult.
There’s another element that has been touched on previously, but must now become a serious focus. The comments from Dr. Anthony Fauci and others that the vaccine effort would be speedy without cutting corners are comforting. Now they need to show how that’s true.
The recent halt to one of the vaccine testing studies could help that effort. There was no attempt to downplay the issue when a patient in one study developed a serious complication. The study was immediately paused while doctors worked to figure out whether the vaccine or bad luck caused the patient’s crisis. That’s how it should work, and it shows the testing process is proceeding according to medical and scientific norms.
What we need is a clear, consistent message from people the public trusts. It needs to come from all points on the political spectrum and from experts in immunology. There needs to be a massive effort to reach people across various forms of mass communications. When the vaccine is available, public officials will need to roll up their sleeves and show themselves being vaccinated.
Even with a vaccine, the pandemic won’t end for a while. There will still be a need for masks, hand washing and social distancing as people get their shots. The pandemic will fade out, not suddenly stop.
The fact we’re able to seriously talk about these endgame issues is a success. It means the process is close to its goal. There is, for the first time in many months, reason for real optimism.
There’s still work to be done, though. There are still lives at risk and people who need to be kept healthy until a vaccine is ready. This is not the time to let up.
We can’t afford to fumble at the one-yard line.