Virginia remains one of the top states in terms of COVID vaccines available per capita, writes Sabrina Moreno with the Richmond Times-Dispatch. So why is Virginia 46th in the nation at dispensing these life-saving resources to Virginians?
The answer? Logistics and a failure to plan accordingly.
After pledging to vaccinate every Virginian by mid-summer 2021, Northam has backed away from this pledge as Richmond seemed unable to co-ordinate the vaccine rollout after nine months of strategic planning that consisted of shifting the operational side to hospitals and health care centers and watching it all go to plan.
Apparently Northam’s advisors subscribe to the underpants gnome theory of logistical planning…
It would be funny if we weren’t hitting record numbers of Virginians getting sick from COVID along with near-record deaths.
Initially, there had been some belief in Richmond that health care workers and local health departments would simply pick up the logistics portion of the bill, yet despite an additional COVID response time and additional resources from Virginia’s health care system, hospitals are running in to three impediments.
First and foremost, Virginians still have medical needs that need to be met. Cancer patients, heart attacks, medical emergencies and the routine business of saving lives absent a pandemic all come to play.
Second, hospitals aren’t precisely equipped to be the nerve centers to administer new jabs. Sure you can wrap people around a parking lot in their cars, but that doesn’t seem to be the most efficient way to administer a life-saving vaccine in a pandemic (especially when there are so few hospitals compared to say, schools) where the vaccine itself requires special handling and refrigeration.
Third and most important? Not everyone in Virginia can administer a shot — that requires a clinician trained to the task, and no one in the Northam administration seems to have considered this part of the question.
Of course, the Northam administration has had since March 2020 to address these concerns. As the federal government administers the vaccines to the states, the state governors in all 50 states administer these vaccines to the public — typically through health care providers, but also through their local health districts.
This is where the snafus have occurred.
As fun as it might be in a non-pandemic condition to throw rocks at the Northam administration for their repeated habit of bungling the mundane, with COVID we are dealing in questions of life and death.
Rather than blaming Virginia hospitals (as Northam did in a moment of weakness during his last press conference), let’s start addressing the problem before we start assigning blame.
First and foremost in all of this is distribution. Simply put, (1) how do we get the vaccines where they need to go, (2) safely, and (3) who is going to administer the shot (4) to the general public in such a way that (5) they will come back and take the second dose?
1. Work with Virginia hospitals to create a plan for the mRNA vaccines that require special handling while allowing local health departments and other local clinics to administer the vaccines that can be stored normally. This may require cars looping around the building; it could require high schools being commandeered on weekends to provide additional access points. It might require the National Guard to provide some form of security and logistics. That’s OK — but let’s start coming up with an SOP for each locality to provide jabs now and what that sort of effort might entail.
2. Start training local EMS and volunteers on how to administer a jab safely. Above all, this is probably the key logistical funnel that we need to expand immediately. Training is not complicated, but process and procedure is critical. This will most likely entail a one-time lift of the rules and regulations as to who can administer a shot for medical purposes… but again, this requires some thought and planning (and pro-activity).
3. Make the waves generally public; make the boundaries generally strict. For instance, these vaccines have a shelf life… if everyone in the 1A and 1B waves are announced, and someone in a 3D condition wants a jab? Administer it. Let’s not wait to hand these out… if we run out? Ask for more. We have senators and congressmen; use ’em. At present, our first in vaccines/last in administration is a joke… Virginia should be hoovering in as many vaccines as we can provided we are using them ALL.
4. Provide a cash incentive to complete the vaccination process. Virginia has a $1.5bn tax windfall during a pandemic, folks. Give a $100 cash incentive to every Virginia resident who completes the two-dose vaccine. That turns a nanny-state proposition where we have to scold people into an avuncular state proposition where we reward people for good behavior (with their own money, sadly enough… but still, the point is taken). The concern is that folks may take the first dose and then wait four… six… eight weeks to get the second, at which point the vaccine may not take. Incentivizing Virginians is not a bad play… even employers such as Dollar General are getting in on the game.
If employer incentives snowball with state incentives? Virginia could be the first state in the nation to reach herd immunity… wouldn’t that be an accomplishment?
Problem is, myopic thinking in Richmond is playing a game of hot potato over political consequences — a feature of the Northam administration that has been painful to watch and wearisome to endure. Yet in the absence of leadership, someone — maybe a COVID Czar of sorts? — could pick up the reigns and provide a modicum of direction.
Perhaps Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax is that person?