The Race to 300 Million: Vaccine Eligibility & Distribution in the US

January 28, 2021
Posted in Blog
January 28, 2021 Rob LaHayne

If you follow the news, you know that the long (well, not technically by vaccine standards) awaited and highly anticipated initial vaccines for COVID-19 are finally here. In November and December the FDA officially green lighted both the Pfizer vaccine candidate and the Moderna vaccine candidate for distribution in the United States. With limited supply, special handling requirements and the need to vaccinate hundreds of millions of people ASAP, the government is under a lot of pressure. They’ve enlisted the military to help with the logistics of distributing the vaccine, but state and local governments ultimately have the tough task of figuring out who to prioritize and how to get those folks vaccinated. With such a decentralized effort, it is no surprise that the initial weeks of distribution have been a bit of a mess. As of January 11th, only about 7m of the 22m initial vaccine doses had actually been distributed. This pace is far too slow to achieve the nearly 300 million Americans that need to be vaccinated in order for us to achieve herd immunity. With President Biden and his team now in office, where do we go from here?

"As of January 11th, only about 7m of the 22m initial vaccine doses had actually been distributed."

The first thing the Biden administration appears to be focused on is creating a more centralized effort to vaccine distribution. Much of the effort for general health and testing protocols has been decentralized in the United States – meaning states and local governments have varying mandates, requirements, strategies, etc. This strategy has kept the US operating in a sort of gray zone where your COVID reality differs pretty drastically from state to state. I live in NY where we were hit especially hard in the beginning of the pandemic. I can’t dine inside at most places. My toddler does weekly COVID testing at her preschool.  I can’t go for a run outside without a mask on. The civic engagement here is really quite powerful. A few of our team members live in FL which has had a very different experience and approach. And even just across the bridge in NJ, my co-workers, friends, and family are operating in a very different way. Not to say that any of this is right or wrong, but the point is that we’ll never solve this problem without a national effort. Biden has already introduced a nearly $2 trillion economic stimulus plan that includes $20 billion for the vaccine rollout – creating local community centers for distribution and organizing the national effort.

Prioritization:

The biggest and toughest question that needs to be answered is: “who should actually get the vaccine first?” With limited supply and a need to act quickly, this is a challenging question. The logical answer is to prioritize our frontline workers and our at-risk populations. Some countries have adopted a more open strategy taking the stance that more shots in more arms is a better approach than slowing down the logistical supply chain by trying to prioritize the population. However, one way to speed things up is certainly to open up eligibility. The US has already seen demand for the vaccine far outreach the actual supply indicating that many people would quickly jump in line to receive their shot if given the opportunity.

Employers:

The top question we’re getting at TouchCare right now is: “are you planning on distributing the vaccine for employers?” Our clients want to bring their employees back to the office. But many are waiting for the vaccine. Motivated employers are looking for ways to help speed up the process and deliver the vaccine to their employees. Similar to flu shots, I expect this will be an emerging trend that develops this year and continues for years to come. We’re already seeing employers that are open during COVID place a huge emphasis on diagnostics. Many are testing their employees with regularity. I believe that the COVID vaccine will eventually become a part of employers’ health strategies. If not for the initial doses, then for the ongoing vaccination requirements. Keeping employees healthy and the workplace safe is going to be a new part of health & benefits planning that many employers have not had to address in the past. Onsite vaccinations as a part of a wellness fair, perk, or safety badge will eventually become commonplace for employers.

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