“In a few months from now, I do suspect that we'll be able to vaccinate a couple million people per day, but … we have to have the personnel,” said Dr. Eric Toner, chief scientist at Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Health Security. “Doing it in the hospitals has been the easy part. It'll get more complicated when we open up the mass vaccination clinics.”
The coronavirus vaccine administration process got off to a harsh start in December, when the first doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines reached hospital systems across the United States to begin vaccinating front-line healthcare workers. The distribution has been marred by transmission delays, miscommunication between states and the federal government, and mixed messaging at the state level about the residents qualified for the first round of shots.
Federal health officials have recently directed states to begin immunizing other priority groups, such as seniors over 65, if they cannot reach more healthcare workers or nursing home residents to get the shots. As more than 3,200 people were dying on average each day over the past week, unused doses with particularly short shelf lives were tossed out.
The Trump administration backed its earlier policy on Tuesday to delay half of all available doses so that recipients of the first doses would be assured the second doses, the same policy proposed by President-elect Joe Biden. As of Tuesday, all vaccine doses will be made available to states.
“It's wise to let the doses out, but the problem is that the states can't manage to deliver all the doses they've been previously given, and giving them more right now is not going to speed up the process,” Toner said.
States have just begun opening vaccination sites where people who are not limited to nursing homes can go to receive their first shots. For example, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis fixed a partnership with Publix pharmacies to start injecting the elderly and people with underlying health conditions. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, meanwhile, has concluded plans for the state’s first mass vaccination site, which will be located at Gillette Stadium, where the New England Patriots play their home games.
With more massive vaccination sites comes a need for more adequate staff to provide the shots. States with a lack of healthcare workers, Toner said, should be prepared to alter state medical practicing regulations.
“Allowing dentists and veterinarians and nursing assistants, and various sorts of medical technicians to do vaccinations would increase the pool of people who could volunteer to do this,” Toner said. “You can take somebody who has basic medical knowledge, and in a few hours, you can train them to give a vaccine.”