Apr. 30—It is time to retool our approach to vaccinating Americans against COVID-19.
In the early days, the vaccination effort focused on health care workers and older residents at higher risk. Now the goal is to vaccinate as many people as quickly as possible.
The focus so far has been on getting vaccine doses to immunization sites. Efforts to reach older Americans were undertaken successfully. Some people have gone to great lengths to find and get the injections. Online skills, a familiarity with the health care system and the ability to travel during the day to vaccine distribution sites put motivated recipients at an advantage.
Things have changed. About 40% of people in the U.S. have had at least their first dose, including 80% of those 65 and older, and now the pace of vaccination is lagging. For example, more than half of Kansas' counties — 62 of 105 — turned down their weekly allotment of coronavirus vaccine doses last week because demand for the shots has declined. The seven-day average of daily shots reported administered in the U.S. fell to 2.7 million on Monday, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. That's the slowest rate since late March.
To protect against the pandemic and to reduce the risk of more deadly variants of COVID-19, as many people as possible need to be immunized against the illness — and we aren't there yet.
Let's face it. The highly motivated, tech-savvy folks largely have been vaccinated, but not all who would be willing have received their shots. Sure, vaccine hesitancy is part of the problem, but more than that is at work. Many of those who haven't received the vaccine aren't fundamentally opposed to getting one. Rather, they may be uncomfortable with the process, may have unanswered questions or may face challenges to access such as getting time off work, finding the right time and location or arranging transportation.
We need to bring the vaccination process closer to the people who need the vaccine. Ideally, people would get the shots through health care providers they trust and who can answer their questions and concerns — providers such as their family physician or local pharmacy. Perhaps mobile vaccine clinics could go into neighborhoods bringing shots to the unvaccinated in the way bookmobiles bring books to readers. While there are logistics challenges, the idea could be a guiding principle.
Schools, civic organizations and large employers should become locations for mobile vaccine clinics so people can get their shots close to home in locations with which they are familiar. This would not be without precedent. Schools have a long history in mass inoculation campaigns, including for smallpox and polio. While there is no vaccine approved for use in children under 16, the program would greatly benefit high school students 16 and older, adult teachers, staff and even parents.
It is time for innovation in getting the vaccine to those who have yet to receive it.