In Florida, less than one-quarter of delivered coronavirus vaccines have been used, even as older people sat in lawn chairs all night waiting for their shots. In Puerto Rico, last week’s vaccine shipments did not arrive until the workers who would have administered them had left for the Christmas holiday. In California, doctors are worried about whether there will be enough hospital staff members to both administer vaccines and tend to the swelling number of Covid-19 patients.
These sorts of logistical problems in clinics across the country have put the campaign to vaccinate the United States against Covid-19 far behind schedule in its third week, raising fears about how quickly the country will be able to tame the epidemic.
Federal officials said as recently as this month that their goal was to have 20 million people get their first shot by the end of this year. More than 14 million doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines had been sent out across the United States, federal officials said on Wednesday. But, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, just 2.8 million people have received their first dose, though that number may be somewhat low because of lags in reporting.
States vary widely in how many of the doses they’ve received have been given out. South Dakota leads the country with more than 48 percent of its doses given, followed by West Virginia, at 38 percent. By contrast, Kansas has given out less than 11 percent of its doses, and Georgia, less than 14 percent.
Compounding the challenges, federal officials say they do not fully understand the cause of the delays. But state health officials and hospital leaders throughout the country pointed to several factors. States have held back doses to be given out to their nursing homes and other long-term-care facilities, an effort that is just gearing up and expected to take several months. Across the country, just 8 percent of the doses distributed for use in these facilities have been administered, with two million yet to be given.
The holiday season has meant that people are off work and clinics have reduced hours, slowing the pace of vaccine administration. In Florida, for example, the demand for the vaccines dipped over the Christmas holiday and is expected to dip again over New Year’s, Gov. Ron DeSantis said on Wednesday.
And critically, public health experts say, federal officials have left many of the details of the final stage of the vaccine distribution process, such as scheduling and staffing, to overstretched local health officials and hospitals.
“We’ve taken the people with the least amount of resources and capacity and asked them to do the hardest part of the vaccination — which is actually getting the vaccines administered into people’s arms,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health.
Federal and state officials have denied they are to blame for the slow rollout. Officials behind Operation Warp Speed, the federal effort to fast-track vaccines, have said that their job was to ensure that vaccines are made available and get shipped out to the states. President Trump said in a tweet on Tuesday that it was “up to the States to distribute the vaccines once brought to the designated areas by the Federal Government.”
“Ultimately, the buck seems to stop with no one,” Dr. Jha said.
These problems are especially worrisome now that a new, more contagious variant, first spotted in Britain and overwhelming hospitals there, has arrived in the U.S. Officials in two states, Colorado and California, say they have discovered cases of the new variant, and none of the patients had recently traveled, suggesting the variant is already spreading in American communities.
The $900 billion relief package that Mr. Trump signed into law on Sunday will bring some relief to struggling state and local health departments. The bill sets aside more than $8 billion for vaccine distribution, on top of the $340 million that the C.D.C. sent out to the states in installments in September and earlier this month.
That infusion of money is welcome, if late, said Dr. Bob Wachter, a professor and chair of the department of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. “Why did that take until now when we knew we were going to have this problem two months ago?”
Covid-19 Vaccines ›
Answers to Your Vaccine Questions
With distribution of a coronavirus vaccine beginning in the U.S., here are answers to some questions you may be wondering about:
- If I live in the U.S., when can I get the vaccine? While the exact order of vaccine recipients may vary by state, most will likely put medical workers and residents of long-term care facilities first. If you want to understand how this decision is getting made, this article will help.
- When can I return to normal life after being vaccinated? Life will return to normal only when society as a whole gains enough protection against the coronavirus. Once countries authorize a vaccine, they’ll only be able to vaccinate a few percent of their citizens at most in the first couple months. The unvaccinated majority will still remain vulnerable to getting infected. A growing number of coronavirus vaccines are showing robust protection against becoming sick. But it’s also possible for people to spread the virus without even knowing they’re infected because they experience only mild symptoms or none at all. Scientists don’t yet know if the vaccines also block the transmission of the coronavirus. So for the time being, even vaccinated people will need to wear masks, avoid indoor crowds, and so on. Once enough people get vaccinated, it will become very difficult for the coronavirus to find vulnerable people to infect. Depending on how quickly we as a society achieve that goal, life might start approaching something like normal by the fall 2021.
- If I’ve been vaccinated, do I still need to wear a mask? Yes, but not forever. Here’s why. The coronavirus vaccines are injected deep into the muscles and stimulate the immune system to produce antibodies. This appears to be enough protection to keep the vaccinated person from getting ill. But what’s not clear is whether it’s possible for the virus to bloom in the nose — and be sneezed or breathed out to infect others — even as antibodies elsewhere in the body have mobilized to prevent the vaccinated person from getting sick. The vaccine clinical trials were designed to determine whether vaccinated people are protected from illness — not to find out whether they could still spread the coronavirus. Based on studies of flu vaccine and even patients infected with Covid-19, researchers have reason to be hopeful that vaccinated people won’t spread the virus, but more research is needed. In the meantime, everyone — even vaccinated people — will need to think of themselves as possible silent spreaders and keep wearing a mask. Read more here.
- Will it hurt? What are the side effects? The Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine is delivered as a shot in the arm, like other typical vaccines. The injection into your arm won’t feel different than any other vaccine, but the rate of short-lived side effects does appear higher than a flu shot. Tens of thousands of people have already received the vaccines, and none of them have reported any serious health problems. The side effects, which can resemble the symptoms of Covid-19, last about a day and appear more likely after the second dose. Early reports from vaccine trials suggest some people might need to take a day off from work because they feel lousy after receiving the second dose. In the Pfizer study, about half developed fatigue. Other side effects occurred in at least 25 to 33 percent of patients, sometimes more, including headaches, chills and muscle pain. While these experiences aren’t pleasant, they are a good sign that your own immune system is mounting a potent response to the vaccine that will provide long-lasting immunity.
- Will mRNA vaccines change my genes? No. The vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer use a genetic molecule to prime the immune system. That molecule, known as mRNA, is eventually destroyed by the body. The mRNA is packaged in an oily bubble that can fuse to a cell, allowing the molecule to slip in. The cell uses the mRNA to make proteins from the coronavirus, which can stimulate the immune system. At any moment, each of our cells may contain hundreds of thousands of mRNA molecules, which they produce in order to make proteins of their own. Once those proteins are made, our cells then shred the mRNA with special enzymes. The mRNA molecules our cells make can only survive a matter of minutes. The mRNA in vaccines is engineered to withstand the cell’s enzymes a bit longer, so that the cells can make extra virus proteins and prompt a stronger immune response. But the mRNA can only last for a few days at most before they are destroyed.
Source: Read Full Article