Fast Company, January 2021
As COVID-19 cases in the U.S. continue to surge—with 2,000 to 3,000 Americans dying every day and the situation in Los Angeles so dire that ambulance drivers are being told to leave patients with little chance of survival at home to save space at overwhelmed hospitals—millions of doses of vaccines are still sitting on shelves.
As of January 4, more than 15 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines had been distributed to the states. That’s far fewer than the government had promised: In October, both President Donald Trump and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said that there would be 100 million doses available by the end of 2020. In November, Azar revised that down to 40 million doses, enough to inoculate 20 million people. By December, the government said that it would keep half of the doses in reserve. Of the doses that did end up going to states, only 4.5 million have been administered so far. At the current pace, it would take nearly a decade to inoculate 80% of the population, the number that some experts say is needed to reach herd immunity.
“What I keep thinking about is, how can you invest billions of dollars into developing this amazing new technology that can really help turn the pandemic around, and just completely neglect the important implementation of how to pull it off?” says Janet Baseman, an epidemiology professor at the University of Washington School of Public Health. “We know how complicated implementation is of large public health programs. It’s like the military developing a missile defense system, and spending all this money, and then not ever bothering to figure out how to stand it up. That would never happen.”