I am super-ready to be vaccinated against Covid-19. I’m not one of those who have any doubts about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine, simply because I’m more eager to get back to my normal life than I am fearful of the remote possibility that I’ll have a reaction to the vaccine.
And so, in my eagerness, I called my family doctor to get an idea of when I might expect my turn to come. Instead, I got a big surprise; a fact that, when you think about it, is obvious yet that has been buried in the national conversation by the pleas from medical authorities to get vaccinated ASAP. My primary care physician–and most likely yours too—doesn’t have medical freezers and therefore will not be getting any vaccine. Dr. Fauci has pleaded with Americans to “step up to the plate” and get vaccinated. Pence, Biden and other leaders have been vaccinated publicly to encourage us to do so; I don’t even need convincing, but can I get it? And when?
Of course, we’ve all heard that one of the drawbacks of the Covid-19 vaccine is that it requires storage at a super-low temperature, but have we really thought about the implications of what this means to people like us? This is one of them. The Covid vaccine isn’t like the yearly flu vaccine that is widely available and therefore easy to get.
Surprised by this unexpected piece of news, I called a friend of mine who is a pulmonologist to see what the situation looks like in his specialty, thinking that of all the specialties, pulmonology should be the one that would have the quickest access to the vaccine. After all, his patients are seeing a pulmonologist because they already have a pre-existing condition that affects their lungs, and that clearly puts them at the greatest risk of losing their lives if they catch the infection.
Here the circumstances were no more encouraging, but for a different reason. The pulmonologist has ordered 500 doses, but he has no information whatsoever about an estimated delivery date. He is completely in the dark about the roll-out and according to what he told me, can get no further clarity from the pharmaceutical companies that he ordered from or the local healthcare agencies. He only knows that it will be sometime in the next few months. When he does get the 500 doses that he ordered, they will not be enough for all his patients, and certainly not for their caregivers as well.
This confusion is not only affecting us locally, on Sunday’s broadcast of “Face the Nation” the debate was about the disconnect existing between claims being made by the Federal government against those made by the local mayors and governors regarding the disbursement of the vaccines. For one thing, the Federal government is stockpiling half the vaccines and disbursing only the other half. Not only does this cut in half the number of doses being claimed by the government as being available, but there is also a glitch in their distribution. Jo Ann Jenkins, the CEO of the AARP stated to Margaret Brennan that, “2.2 million doses have gone out to nursing homes, and yet only 13% of that has been administered”.
It looks like there’s a breakdown in communication between the federal and the local governments, with the Federal stating that they’re waiting for the states to tell them where to send it while the local governments declare that they are being denied the vaccines they requested—even when they are destined for nursing homes.
Even though my family doctor won’t be getting any, he adamantly noted that the much-vaunted “Operation Warp Speed is a joke”. Not only have other countries like China and Russia been vaccinating since August (and yes, their vaccines have also been deemed to be safe and effective even by US agencies) but their roll-out apparently was organized and efficient. As we have seen, in our country doctors can’t even get vital information to pass on to their patients. As Jenkins summarized it, “…there needs to be further clarity about, and expectations set, about when [the] vaccines are going to be administered widely.”
Rural hospitals have already seen that since the leading vaccine, made by Pfizer, requires a medical freezer, they are “being left behind”, and they have protested. This serious difficulty shouldn’t have been completely unanticipated, yet as late as November, the CDC was advising hospitals against buying medical freezers, “saying other vaccines with less demanding storage requirements will be available soon.”
I’m not an expert in the medical field, but it seems obvious even to me that the frontline of the medical profession, our family doctors, were overlooked in the planning stage when purchase orders were being placed, because if we had more of the vaccines that don’t require special storage equipment they wouldn’t have been cut out of the rollout. The government could have ordered more of the Moderna which can be stored at a temperature of -20C (like a regular freezer) and less of the Pfizer which needs -70C.
So, since local doctors most likely don’t have the necessary—and expensive– equipment available, even when they may be part of a mega-system like Northwell Health or Pro-Health, as mine is, what is their best advice? The huge contracts (in my doctor’s words) have been given to CVS and Walgreen; therefore, they’re our best bet to get vaccinated. As for the pulmonologist who will have the 500 doses—and other specialists who also may have some– those are reserved for their own patients, and so, unless you’re one of them, no deal. Of course, once CVS and Walgreen will start administering the vaccine it won’t be easy to get an appointment, but that’s the situation.
Whatever they may be telling us on television and in the media about getting out there and getting vaccinated is more fiction than reality. Until the rollout process becomes smooth and operational, it doesn’t matter how eager you are to get vaccinated. And once it does, don’t be under the illusion that your family doctor will vaccinate you. Sadly, the Trump Administration, having already gutted the pandemic preparedness agencies and scrapped the Obama “playbook,” was unable and unwilling to stem the spread of the coronavirus, and they are now equally unprepared to administer the vaccines in a way that could put a speedy end to it.