[February 6, 2021] Two days ago, I attended a Vietnam War veteran’s funeral. The turnout was about 35 people, family, and many older veterans who knew him. A good number of attendees, in my estimation, given that we are in the middle of a pandemic. We were curious why vaccinations were so few in our state. In this article, I give some of my thoughts on our vaccine priorities and distribution problems.
The priority about who receives the vaccine first has led to several controversies over fairness and necessity. We are told that those who are most at risk from the virus’s effects would be first in line for the vaccination. This is only fair, of course. Yet, this idea never translated well into formal policies or practices.
“There’s dozens and dozens of these stories, and they really show that the rollout was a complete disaster in terms of selling fairness. It wasn’t that we didn’t have consensus (on who should go first). We didn’t pay attention to logistics and that drove distribution, not rules.” – Arthur Caplain, head of the medical ethics division at the NYU School of Medicine
I have no particular crystal ball to look into the future about this pandemic or about how well or not the vaccination process will work out. Nevertheless, I can see what is happening, and here are some observations:
- Vaccine priorities are overly intricate, lack clarity, and some states impose stiff penalties for health care centers that provide the vaccine to the “wrong” people.
- People are self-identifying as essential workers to improve their chances of getting a vaccination earlier. There is an over-emphasis on “self-identification” and this gives rise to unfair deception.
- States distribute vaccines to counties for distribution based on 10+ year old census data but have misallocated these products, creating undercounts and overcounts.
- State priorities are changing, sometimes daily. This has led to more confusion and the wasting of vaccine doses.
- Some states are giving higher priority to criminals, smokers, GITMO terrorists, and illegal immigrants than the average citizen who works for a living and the elderly. Furthermore, politicians and spouses are in the top priority regardless of age or risk factors.
- Distribution problems occur primarily in politically Democrat states such as California, New York, and my state of New Jersey (where I live). Republican states like Alaska and West Virginia have the highest vaccination rates.
- Hollywood celebrities and other nefarious characters pay bribes to get themselves and their families ahead of the line.
This is a classic case of large bureaucratic bumbling. Large organizations are designed to do many tasks, massively and quickly. They are very good at doing so. What these organizations cannot do, without superb leadership, is to do anything well when the ground rules change. That has occurred with the pandemic, and it should come as no surprise that all governments are struggling to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine.
Moral choices exist, and many are not happy about those decisions. Some claim that politics drives vaccine priorities and distribution systems. If that is true, we are in trouble. A reckoning is coming for those in the political system who are refusing to introduce fairness in a time where it is of utmost importance.