The coronavirus vaccine roll-out in the U.S. may have gotten off to a frustratingly slow start, but we could soon be seeing up to 1 million vaccinations a day, Anthony Fauci, M.D., Anthony Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, said in a recent interview.
There are now two COVID-19 vaccines that have been authorized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for emergency use. And government officials said their original goal was to vaccinate 20 million people by the end of 2020, CNN reported. We fell pretty far short of that, however, getting just over 2 million people their first shot in December. Things are starting to pick up in the first week of January, and 5.3 million people have now been vaccinated, the New York Times reports. But that’s still nowhere near that original 20 million.
So what why is vaccine distribution going so slowly? It’s a combination of a few different but related factors. That includes issues with reduced healthcare staff to administer the vaccine, a lack of funding for local public health programs, difficulty assessing people’s eligibility for priority access to the vaccine, and vaccine hesitancy (even among a small amount of healthcare workers). With local governments already stretched thin by the pandemic—and receiving little concrete federal help—a slowdown like this is frustrating but not particularly surprising.
But Dr. Fauci is optimistic that those issues are on their way to getting resolved. “Any time you start a big program, there’s always glitches. I think the glitches have been worked out,” he told the AP. “Once you get rolling and get some momentum, I think we can achieve 1 million a day or even more,” he said, especially now that the winter holidays are over and we’re already reaching about half a million daily vaccinations in the country.
“I think it would be fair to just observe what happens in the next couple of weeks. If we don’t catch up on what the original goal was, then we really need to make some changes about what we’re doing,” he explained in a later interview with NPR. “But right now, I think we just need to give a little bit slack—not a lot, but enough to say, well, we’re past the holiday season, now let’s really turn the afterburners on.”
Data from the pharmaceutical companies that developed the vaccines shows they can help prevent symptomatic coronavirus infections, but we don’t know yet if they can also help prevent asymptomatic ones. It’s also not clear yet whether or not the vaccines can help prevent the infection from spreading between people, but initial data from clinical trials suggest that they may, SELF explained previously. (The fact that we don’t know that for sure is one major reason why it’s important to keep wearing a mask even after getting the vaccine.)
Provided that the vaccines do prevent transmission, it will be crucial that we get as many people vaccinated as possible not just to provide those people with protection against COVID-19, but because having a lot of people get the vaccine would create a larger level of protection through herd immunity. Dr. Fauci previously said we would need at least 75% of people in the country to be vaccinated in order to achieve the broad protection that comes with herd immunity.
Ultimately, watching the challenges of the vaccine roll-out is a reminder of the importance of all the other public health tools we have at our disposal, including masks, social distancing, and frequent hand washing. Those will be continue to be just as crucial in reducing the toll of the pandemic now as they have been for months.
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