Not Throwing Away My Shot

There is one issue that could be uniting people across the political spectrum, and that’s covid vaccine distribution. It’s a mess.

I live in Missouri, which recently has had the distinction of the worst vaccine record among the 50 states and the District of Columbia. We’re Number 51! I’m also well over 65, am on three waiting lists, and still don’t have an appointment for a first vaccine. The word from everywhere is, Don’t call us. We’ll call you. Yet I’m also hearing of healthy 30-year-olds who don’t work in teaching or health care but who are getting vaccinated already.

To add to the confusion, about every three days the state unveils a new vaccine distribution plan. They unveiled another one today, according to the Idaho Statesman, although the details are not posted on the state covid information site. As near as I can tell from news stories, over the past week the state has diverted vaccines from chain pharmacies to sites run by National Guard, and then from the Guard sites to select hospitals, although I can’t find out which ones. The vaccines are getting around a lot more than I am; whether they’re getting into arms is another matter.

It’s February 1. I’m asking myself how long I should wait before I get on the phone and make a nuisance of myself to get an appointment. I’ll give it a couple more weeks, I guess. I know people in their 90s who haven’t been called yet, either.

We’re learning more and more about how the Trumpers royally screwed up vaccine distribution. See, for example, Trump officials actively lobbied to deny states money for vaccine rollout last fall by Nicholas Florko at Stat.

Top Trump officials actively lobbied Congress to deny state governments any extra funding for the Covid-19 vaccine rollout last fall — despite frantic warnings from state officials that they didn’t have the money they needed to ramp up a massive vaccination operation.

And why not? In September the CDC allocated $200 million to the states and territories for covid preparedness and vaccine distribution, and as of late October most the of states had not yet spent all that money. And that was possibly because there was no vaccine to distribute at the time. Just a guess.

Even I can figure out that $200 million divided among 50 states and 14 territories wouldn’t be enough to cover the cost of distribution. But Trump Administration officials were certain that if they gave the states more money they’d just squander it on covering budget shortfalls caused by their frantic efforts to buy PPE and ventilators on the black market last year because of the bleeping Trump Administration’s incompetence.

Speaking of which, the Government Accountability Office recently discovered that Trump spent $200 million to send 8,722 ventilators to other countries during the coronavirus pandemic last year.

The Trump administration spent $200 million to send more than 8,700 ventilators to countries around the world last year, with no clear criteria for determining who should get them and no way to keep track of where many ended up, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

The effort, driven by the Trump White House, was an unusual top-down initiative with little decision-making by experts at the U.S. Agency for International Development, which carried out the administration’s orders. President Donald Trump last year boasted about U.S. success in manufacturing the machines and declared the U.S. “the king of ventilators,” promising donations to foreign countries.

This was apparently some kind of public relations effort.

Throughout last year, USAID and White House officials frequently publicized the donations on social media, sharing pictures of large boxes plastered with USAID’s logo ready to be shipped out.

But neither USAID or the State Department appeared to have any input into where these ventilators were going. I take it the decisions were made by somebody in the White House pulling a number out of a hat and throwing darts at a world map.

El Salvador received 600 ventilators when it had 74 new cases a day of COVID-19, while Honduras, which had 161 cases a day or more than twice as much as El Salvador, received 210 ventilators.

It’s also the case that some ventilators went to places where nobody was trained how to use them. And at this point USAID doesn’t know where most of the ventilators are right now. One suspects a lot of them ended up on the black market. Maybe Illinois bought them.  Who knows?

And it’s not clear whether these ventilators were among those that were scooped up by the feds last year and, as far as we know, never seen again. See, for example, The Great Ventilator Flap from March 27;  Are the Trumps Engaged in Profiteering? from April 4; from Talking Points Memo, What’s Up with the Feds Seizing PPE Shipments to States and Hospitals?, also April 4; and Now We Know What “Ours” Meant, April 9. I suspect there will be more interesting revelations out of the GAO over the next few months.

But back to vaccines. The Biden team took over with a 200-page plan for distribution that, as I understand it, turned out to be dead on arrival because of the absolute mess left by the Trumpers.

After a week on the job, Biden’s team is still trying to locate upwards of 20 million vaccine doses that have been sent to states — a mystery that has hampered plans to speed up the national vaccination effort. They’re searching for new ways to boost production of a vaccine stockpile that they’ve discovered is mostly empty. And they’re nervously eyeing a series of new Covid-19 strains that threaten to derail the response.

The “transition” had been little help.

“Nobody had a complete picture,” said Julie Morita, a member of the Biden transition team and executive vice president at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “The plans that were being made were being made with the assumption that more information would be available and be revealed once they got into the White House.”

I am hopeful that by March 1 the Biden team will have matters well in hand. However, by then the state of Missouri will be on its thirty-fourth distribution plan, and it will involve trained squirrels.

Close-up medical syringe with a vaccine.