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Opinion: Solutions to COVID-19 vaccination rollout must be prioritized over playing blame game
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Certified medical assistant Sabrina Edge, of the Northeast Georgia Physicians Group, gives Ron Davidson a COVID-19 vaccine Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021, at the Northeast Georgia Health System Corporate Plaza during the health system's second vaccine clinic for those 65 and over at the site. - photo by Scott Rogers

Gov. Brian Kemp confirmed Thursday what a lot of people who have tried to make an appointment for a COVID-19 vaccine already knew — the system for doing so is a mess.

On the one hand, Georgia has administered only about half the vaccine it has received. On the other, it desperately needs more vaccines than it has gotten.

At his Thursday news conference, the governor noted the state has “more demand than supply,” as virus deaths continue to climb and hospitals across the state are drowning in patients.

And while Georgia so far lags behind virtually all other states in vaccination efficiency, the problem is nationwide, as President Joe Biden made clear immediately upon taking office.

Put the blame wherever you will — logistics, poor planning, politics, incompetency, system overload — the reality is, it doesn’t matter why we are where we are, just that things are made better as rapidly as possible.

Times editorial board

Staff members

  • Norman Baggs, general manager

  • Shannon Casas, editor in chief

Community members

  • Cheryl Brown

  • David George

  • Mandy Harris

  • Brent Hoffman

  • J.C. Smith

  • Tom Vivelo

The much ballyhooed public-private partnership called Operation Warp Speed was extremely successful in bringing viable vaccines to the public in an incredibly short period of time, but the second half of its mission, which was to distribute those vaccines and inoculate the public, has to this point been a failure.

It is hard to imagine a more pressing priority for the incoming administration in Washington than solving the problem. We cannot return to any sense of normalcy until the pandemic begins to be tamed, and successfully inoculating as many people as possible as quickly as possible is our best hope for making that happen.

As he prepared to sign a number of executive orders related to the pandemic on his first full day in office, Biden said combating the disease required a “wartime effort,” a fact made chillingly obvious when confronted by the harsh reality that more Americans have already lost their lives to COVID than were killed in World War II.

In renewing his commitment to 100 million vaccinations in his first 100 days in office, Biden announced a number of  initiatives meant to improve the distribution of the vaccine across the country: involving more pharmacies, increasing the public health workforce, getting the vaccine to more medical professionals in the private sector, involving FEMA directly in the process, reimbursing the states for expenses incurred in getting the National Guard involved.

Still, the president warned, the “brutal truth” is that it is going to be months before most Americans have had an opportunity to receive the vaccine. He characterized the efforts to distribute the vaccine to this point as a “dismal failure,” and warned of “dark” times ahead, saying “things are going to continue to get worse before they get better.”

Not the words anyone wants to hear when they have tried for weeks to make an appointment through the existing distribution structure, only to encounter online sites that crash, phones that ring without being answered and a lack of available appointment times, if they are lucky enough to actually reach someone.

We know there are some who have decided they will not be vaccinated. That’s their choice. But for the hundreds of millions who do plan to take advantage of the vaccine, a possible end to the pandemic nightmare seems so close, and still so far away.

The president Thursday addressed the necessity of building trust in the vaccination program, something he said had been lost in months of misinformation about the vaccine. The best way to build trust is to be honest about problems, even as solutions are proposed.

One obvious problem is that the nation’s public health system has for too long been an afterthought rather than a priority. While most Americans focus on health service from the private sector, the job done by those in the public health field is often under appreciated and underfunded. All of the many routine services provided by those in public health have not gone away as the same workforce attempts to handle the demand for COVID vaccinations. There simply are not enough people and resources to handle the demand.

Getting the country vaccinated is an effort that demands an “all hands on deck” approach. National guard, FEMA, mass vaccination centers, public sector resources, private sector resources. Whatever it takes to make it happen.

The supply side issue has to be addressed with production. The reserves we were told were being held for the “second round” of shots do not exist. The states need more vaccines, then they need more creative ways to get the vaccines to the people.

At this point, determining who dropped the ball where is a lot less important than making sure someone picks it back up and runs with it. The problems encountered thus far in trying to get the vaccine to those 65 and older and in certain risk groups will be multiplied many times once the patient pool is broadened to include those who are younger. Solutions have to be in place by then.

Knowing there remain dark days ahead is less daunting if we can believe there is a shimmer of light visible somewhere down the road. Those upon whom we depend for leadership at the national and state level have to turn that shimmer into a beacon in which we can honestly believe.

Let the reality sink in — more American deaths in a year from COVID than military deaths in four years of World War II. What, indeed, is more important at this time than resolving the vaccine distribution problems?

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