United States rollout of Covid vaccine distribution is disgustingly incompetent

In an episode of The Big Bang Theory, the nerd friends are sitting on their sofa, waiting for the exact second the Comic-Con website opens up the availability to buy tickets. They do a countdown, and at that precise moment, they all start applying, repetitively hitting the refresh button on their computers. Despite their repeated attempts, multiplied times five computer users, they are unsuccessful. Sad for them, but funny for the audience.

For United States adults over age 65 seeking Covid vaccine appointments, this sounds sadly familiar. We search multiple times each day, in the middle of the night, early in the morning, and throughout the day and evening. We search the appointment sites for the State, for the County, and for each private site (such as various retailers and pharmacists).

On very rare occasions, some of us (those who are comfortable with computers) are lucky and happen to hit the “submit” button at the precise time when an appointment miraculously opens up. And even then, frustration ensues more often than not — because on the appointed day, the facility turns out not to have received its shipment, or the vaccine received is not the one that was originally scheduled – invalidating the appointment for the second shot and causing additional stress.

This public health emergency should not be like a sitcom. Senior citizens and others who are most at risk of this virus should not be trying to score appointments like fans trying to get Super Bowl tickets. Knowing how serious the situation and how high the demand, websites should be designed to handle the anticipated traffic. When an appointment amazingly becomes available, it should not disappear before the user can finish filling out the form and hitting “book.”

This is not about Republican vs. Democrat. Trump-haters who deride Operation Warp Speed are wrong in failing to credit that but for the public-private partnership it created, as well as its imperative to speed up the normally glacial FDA approval process, we would not even have vaccines to cause this distribution-frustration. But the distribution foul-up is equally distributed between Democratic-led and Republican-led state and local governments.

We appreciate — truly — that the vaccine manufacturers can only make the vaccines so fast, that there are limitations on such operations, on the shipping and storage logistics. We appreciate — truly — that public and private entities cannot distribute vaccines that they do not have. We appreciate — truly — that there are more people, even in the allowed-to-date subgroups — who want the vaccine than there are doses available.

But it should be not like this. This ought to be push – not pull. Once registered on the various sites, eligible applicants should not have to check in constantly, trying to catch lightning in a bottle. The agencies who have our information should be reaching out to us, not the other way around. This is a public health emergency, not a private one.

And why add to the tremendous stress the public — especially seniors — are suffering from continued misinformation? Why, for example, open up Category 1b (people over 65) on January 25, when there is no vaccine availability? Why make it seem like the goal is in sight when appointments are simply rarely available? Why not have daily updates available on both public and private websites so people will know how much vaccine is available in their area, rather than requiring seniors to play the equivalent of “whack-a-mole” trying to discover appointments that never exist? We know people who, when they were finally able to get an appointment, drove over an hour to get to the vaccination location – why make it so inconvenient?

For seniors — including those who are just barely seniors (like us) — this is especially frustrating. We haven’t seen two of our children (except by video) for a year and a half. We have yet to meet (except by video) our new granddaughter — and haven’t seen her sister for a year and a half. We don’t know when we will be able to see them in person, to hug them, to interact with them. Life is passing us by – and we remain trapped as we continue to mask up and social distance. Another year gone. Opportunities lost. Will our granddaughters ever even know us?

Ten months ago, I published an article (https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/today-is-thursday-right-covid-19-reflections/) on what many of us were feeling. Today, this article about what, I expect, many of us are feeling — and many of those things are very much the same, with an overlay of additional stress and exasperation at the public and private entities that have so botched the rollout of the vaccine. We continue to recognize that we are among the lucky ones — that we have the ability be safe and secure (financially and physically), have internet access, can work from home, have thankfully not lost loved ones to Covid, and so much more.

But even as we appreciate these blessings, our anger and stress grows. We see light at the end of the tunnel, but getting there continues to be more nightmare than a dream.

About the Author
David H. Levitt practices intellectual property and commercial litigation law in Chicago, and is a pro-Israel activist.
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