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Essay – Find the Missing Vaccine Doses

Syringes for disposal

(alexroma, Pixabay)

24 Jan. 2021. Almost exactly one year ago, we began reporting on a mysterious respiratory disease from China called at the the time a novel coronavirus. And in the past year, biotech companies and drug makers performed the near-impossible feat of developing and testing a vaccine to prevent infections against the SARS-CoV-2 virus responsible for Covid-19 infections.

But as we’ve also learned in that time, vaccines don’t stop the disease, vaccinations do, which means getting the vaccines into syringes and arms. The New York Times reports today that vaccinations are not happening, with health officials across the United States …

growing desperate, unable to get clear answers as to why the long-anticipated vaccines are suddenly in short supply. Inoculation sites are canceling thousands of appointments in one state after another as the nation’s vaccines roll out through a bewildering patchwork of distribution networks, with local officials uncertain about the supplies they will have in hand.

Yet, vaccine companies continue to produce and ship tens of millions of vaccine doses. Also according to the New York Times, vaccine manufacturers, as of yesterday (23 Jan.) distributed 41.4 million doses, with 20.5 million doses given to individuals. That leaves 20.9 doses, or about half of the number produced, somewhere in the pipeline.

So where are they? Vaccine manufacturers hire delivery companies like FedEx to ship their products, but they can only monitor these life-saving items as far as the designated recipients. The fact that local officials need to deal with “a bewildering patchwork of distribution networks” indicates there’s no system in place to track shipping, storage, and delivery of the vaccines from end to end.

Complete lack of a vaccine distribution strategy

The lack of a distribution system should not comes as a complete surprise. After the inauguration on Wednesday, CNN reported “one of the biggest shocks that the Biden team had to digest during the transition period was what they saw as a complete lack of a vaccine distribution strategy under former President Donald Trump, even weeks after multiple vaccines were approved for use in the United States.”

The evidence suggests vaccine distribution so far is a monumental failure, and even with wrongdoing. Right now, no one apparently can tell for certain what happened to those 20.9 million missing doses. Biden’s vaccine distribution team needs to find those doses, and fast, before their shelf life expires. And for those doses that can’t be found, the responsible persons should be held accountable. It should not come as a surprise that these vaccines are valuable commodities that attract a high price on the black market.

At the same time, the Biden team needs to put in place an end-to-end distribution and tracking system for the vaccines. It’s hardly an exotic idea. As we described on 31 Dec., the nations’ large retailers already have systems of this kind in place for tracking the whereabouts and quantities of items much less valuable than Covid-19 vaccines. It’s done every day with bar codes, scanners, and software. All it takes is the will to do it.

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