I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but 2021 won’t be that much different from 2020 if the country (and the world for that matter) doesn’t get its vaccine act together.
As Britain moves forward with a questionable strategy of mixing different vaccine products, the new strain of COVID-19 first reported out of the UK was found in Colorado and California this week, and Los Angeles continues to grapple with a devastating surge of coronavirus cases.
Despite the clearly still active spread of COVID-19, the hope that came in the form of two highly effective vaccines released at the end of 2020 is now being tempered by a mess of rollout issues.
Though over 14 million doses of vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna have been shipped out across the U.S., the New York Times reports that only about 2 million people have received even a first dose. The federal government had set a goal of vaccinating up to 20 million people by the end of 2020, but that target was a long ways from being achieved and there isn’t a single—or clear—answer why.
Officials in the Trump Administration’s Operation Warp Speed have suggested that the holiday period may be impacting vaccination efforts, while Trump has blamed individual states for the slow rollout. In December, several state governors called out the federal government for shipping less vaccine doses to their regions than had been promised.
But an issue impacting the take-up of the vaccines may also be the reluctance of health care workers who have been put first in line to receive protection from COVID-19. Both the LA Times and NPR are reporting that frontline workers at hospitals in California and Chicago, respectively, have been eschewing getting vaccine doses.
In Riverside County, California, nearly 50% of eligible health care workers have refused the vaccine. While some refusals have come from pregnant frontline workers wary of taking the vaccine (the Center for Disease Control says there is limited data on the safety of vaccines administered to pregnant or breastfeeding women), others are avoiding getting doses because of fear as well as distrust in the government.
“It’s not shocking, given what the federal administration has done over the past 10 months,” Sal Rosselli, the president of the National Union of Healthcare Workers, told the LA Times.
In a December survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, three in ten health care workers said they “probably or definitely” would not get vaccinated.
Then there are the incidents of health personnel deliberately sabotaging vaccines or bungling the distribution of doses to those who are actively seeking them.
In Tennessee, WRCB 3 News reports that on Friday officials at the Hamilton County Health Department turned away scores of people who had been lined up in their cars for hours waiting their turn for a vaccine shot citing limited supply. Later that day, officials at the health department were found to be distributing doses to “close contacts,” i.e. people who were friends and family members of those administering the vaccine.
And police arrested a pharmacist working at Advocate Aurora Health Hospital in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on New Years Eve, on allegations that he removed 570 doses of the Moderna vaccine from refrigerated storage and left them to sit out overnight, intentionally making them “useless.”
According to a statement by the Grafton Police, who arrested the worker this week but have yet to name him, 57 doses of the spoiled vaccine were administered to patients. Though officials at the hospital said there are no health concerns related to receiving the destroyed vaccines, the worker wrote a statement admitting to intentionally spoiling the doses by removing them from refrigeration. Police say he also knew that people who received the ruined doses would think they had been protected against the virus when they were not.
The suspect has yet to be formally charged, but the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has identified 46-year-old Steven Brandenburg, a licensed pharmacist, as being booked in jail under the preliminary charges outlined by the Grafton Police in its statement about the arrest.
President-elect Biden has a major battle ahead of him as he takes over the White House and the ongoing fight against the coronavirus pandemic—chief of which is getting more of the public onboard with a collective response to protecting ourselves against the disease.