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Unprecedented efforts from researchers and pharmaceutical engineers have brought about safe, effective vaccines, in record development times; now the focus must be on a federally coordinated program to administer those injections in the most efficient manner possible.
Anyone who has run a marathon knows that while the first 25 miles are no fun, it is the last 1.2 miles when you have to double down and drag yourself over the finish line.
This lesson has been widely ignored in the marathon development and logistic planning for vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19). Somehow, we can’t make it the last few feet to the arms of the awaiting public. Yes, we have pumped billions of dollars into Moderna for mRNA technology (actually, funded largely by NIH for the last decade) and purchased millions of doses from Pfizer—with additional millions on order potentially from Astra-Zeneca, Johnson & Johnson, and others. We continue to await FDA emergency approval for these other vaccines.
But with millions of doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in the hands of our government, where is the requisite massive vaccination effort? We need to vaccinate 200 million Americans, requiring 400 million injections. Even if we get up to 1 million inoculations per day, this would take more than one year.
So, we have millions of doses sitting in state and county repositories, yet who is administering these vaccines? Are there extra staff to draw up syringes, set up vaccination stations, register those receiving vaccine? Are there nurses to administer the vaccine in the hospitals that are already stretched beyond capacity with COVID-19 cases? Where are the pharmacists drawing up and preparing the injections? Is there extra capacity among the pharmacists and nursing injectors at the CVS and Walgreens stores across the country? (Ask yourselves this question in light of your last wait in line for medication.)
At many health care institutions, pharmacists are arriving 2 hours early on a volunteer basis to draw up syringes every day; our nurses are volunteering days or shifts off to inject, hoping to reach the maximum number of injections per day that the supply will allow. But this will get us only so far. We know our colleagues all have jobs and do not have the time to make this happen in a concerted, efficient, and massive way. And, that was before the intense increased burdens of the sick COVID-19 patients. The medical system is overworked, exhausted, and burning out. This says nothing about the number of health care professionals who will be needed when the general public starts to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
What is needed is a concerted and coordinated national effort involving the Red Cross, National Guard, retired medical professionals, and others who can be trained. We need every auditorium and sports arena across the country to be set up with hundreds of stations, injecting thousands of patients per day. The sooner we get the 400 million injections in people’s arms, the sooner the pressure will be relieved from our overburdened medical system and the sooner we can back to some semblance of our pre–COVID-19 lives.
President Biden, we call on you to engage the troops and personnel necessary to get the job done. Letting the states figure out how to stagger across the finish line without additional personnel and resources is not the pathway to success that America needs.