On his first day in office, President Joe Biden released his National Strategy for the Covid-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness. One of the seven parts of the plan calls for a “safe, effective, and comprehensive vaccination campaign.”
Hopefully, the new administration will do a better job distributing the life-saving vaccines because the rollout on the federal level to date has been a dismal failure. Health officials in West Virginia and across the country have been severely limited in getting shots in arms because they cannot get the promised number of doses.
The failure was highlighted by the Washington Post last week when it reported that then Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar’s plan to release doses held in reserve for the second shot failed because, “no such reserve existed.”
As the Post reported, “Now, health officials across the country who had anticipated their extremely limited vaccine supply as much as doubling beginning (this week) are confronting the reality that their allocations will remain largely flat.”
In West Virginia, the impact is dramatic. The state requested and was expecting 100,000 doses this week, but it received only 23,000. Meanwhile, the state has followed the CDC recommendations for expanding the age groups available to receive shots.
The result is predictable; thousands more West Virginians are trying to get shots, and the demand is far outpacing the supply.
Older West Virginians trying to call health departments and clinics to schedule vaccinations are met with constant busy signals, even after calling dozens of times. Many who manage to get through are told there are no more doses.
“I understand the frustration,” said West Virginia Bureau of Senior Services Commissioner Robert Roswall. “Don’t give up,” he added. “(Health Departments) are working on that as quickly as they can.”
But health departments are not set up to handle hundreds of calls and they have quickly become overwhelmed. Some of the larger health departments have added staff to field calls, but smaller facilities are just swamped.
DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch announced this week the state will soon have in place a centralized registration system. That should help to better organize the distribution, but the vaccinations will still be severely limited until West Virginia gets more doses.
Governor Jim Justice and his Covid-19 Task Force members have been pressing Washington for more vaccine, but they are getting the same answer as when folks get through to their local health department—they don’t have the doses.
Despite the shortage of vaccines and the strain on the distribution system, West Virginia is still doing better than nearly every other state in getting shots in arms. That tells you how poorly the operation is working in most of the country.
However, if you are a West Virginian waiting for a shot, the commendable national statistic is not much consolation.