The percentage of doses of the coronavirus vaccine that got into American bloodstreams fell a little bit in the past few days. On Monday morning, the U.S. had administered 63 million out of 75.2 million delivered doses of the coronavirus vaccine — about 83 percent had gotten into people’s arms. This morning, on both the Bloomberg and New York Times charts, the U.S. has collectively administered 65 million out of 82.1 million distributed — down to about 79 percent. The in-transit or unused total increased from about 12.2 million doses to 17.1 million doses.
No doubt, a lot of that reflects shipment delays and canceled appointments because of bad weather. And the pace should increase considerably in the coming weeks, with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration expected to give approval of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at the end of this week. Disappointingly, Johnson and Johnson now estimates that “nearly four million doses would be ready for shipment after the F.D.A. authorizes the vaccine, far below the 12 million it had originally pledged to give the federal government by the end of February.”
But beyond unavoidable weather delays, it’s still fair to ask if getting shots into arms is being slowed down by a complicated and cumbersome process of getting people appointments. You’re going to hear a lot of complaints about inequitable distribution of the vaccines, and minority communities getting shortchanged. In Washington, D.C., the vaccination of seniors in wealthier and whiter wards on the west side of the city is way ahead of the vaccination of seniors in the poorer and more heavily African-American wards on the east side of the city. But if you set up a complicated, slow, Internet-based system for registering for a vaccination, we shouldn’t exactly be shocked that poorer elderly residents will struggle the most with working their way through the system:
[D.C. resident Beatrice] Evans received just one robocall in mid-February from Johns Hopkins Medicine; Sibley Memorial Hospital in Palisades, part of the Hopkins Medicine network, is a vaccine provider. She says she’s seen no flyers containing vaccine information. (The D.C. government has created flyers telling residents to visit coronavirus.dc.gov/vaccinatedc to learn if they are eligible, but it’s unclear how widely they were distributed.)
“We are not on Facebook and social media and all of that. We look at the news, but they don’t really educate the people,” Evans says. They eventually learned they could book through the D.C. government website, vaccinate.dc.gov, but most did not have computers. Those who did described the website as difficult to use. (Using the portal has been complicated for plenty of people, including George Washington University students.) Many gave up on the call center because their initial experiences proved discouraging—some waited hours to speak with a representative. Sometimes, the call taker failed to call back.
“After hearing all those complaints from my neighbors, I said ‘No. We got to do this a better way. I know there is a better way to get this done,’” Evans says. “Somebody needs to speak up for my people over here. I still got a little energy, and I make the time.”
It’s a fair question for state, county, and local health officials: When you set up this system that is supposed to help the elderly get the first doses, did you have your grandmother in mind? Or are you envisioning some much more tech-savvy nimble user of Internet-based technology? And have you thought about how to reach those citizens who don’t have a computer or smartphone? (They exist!) The District of Columbia currently ranks dead last in getting vaccines into arms; they’ve administered 166,724 of the 249,315 doses they received, or 67 percent.