The Morning Jolt

Health Care

Where the U.S. Is on the Vaccine Front

A nurse prepares a dose of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine at the Bathgate Post Office vaccination facility in Bronx, N.Y., January 10, 2021. (Kevin Hagen/Reuters Pool)

On the menu today: a dive into a lot of aspects of our ongoing vaccination campaign, including the fact that some locations are only now administering shots on weekends; a Houston district attorney tried to prosecute a doctor who used doses on people who weren’t in a priority group; and Anheuser-Busch is putting the money it would have spent on a Super Bowl ad to a public-awareness campaign about the vaccines. Because you really needed a PSA to tell you to get vaccinated, right?

Shouldn’t We Vaccinate People Seven Days a Week?

South Carolina is like my second home state, and one of this morning’s headlines in that neck of the woods caught my eye: “Here’s how hospitals near Myrtle Beach will provide COVID vaccinations 7 days a week.

I realize our medical personnel are exhausted and possibly burned out from a calamitous year like no other. I realize vaccination is a complicated process that requires trained personnel, a great deal of organization of logistics, monitoring people for a period of time after the jab for allergic reactions, and for one of the vaccines, specialized super-cold containers.

But we’re six weeks into the vaccination process, and getting people protected against COVID-19 seems like the sort of thing that should be happening seven days a week, no?

Alas, it seems that quite a few places took weekends, or at least Sundays off in the first month or so.

According to Bloomberg’s numbers, America’s states and medical systems vaccinated 795,000 people on Saturday January 2, but only 44,000 on Sunday, January 3. On Saturday, January 9, 673,000 people were vaccinated; the next day, on Sunday, it dropped to 293,000 people. On Saturday, January 16, 636,000 people were vaccinated; the next day, on Sunday, it dropped to 401,000 people.

Who’s running this, Chick-fil-A? Actually, that joke isn’t fair. If Chick-fil-A were running this, the lines would be long but moving quickly, everyone distributing the vaccine would be off-the-charts cheery, and I would have had a third serving by now.

Thankfully, this past weekend, the numbers stayed relatively steady nationally — 1.4 million on Friday, 1.3 million doses on Saturday, and 1.3 million doses Sunday.

Alas, you can find certain locations that still show a significant dip in the number of vaccinations performed on weekends. Here in Virginia, the state administered almost 22,000 doses on Friday . . . and then about 15,600 Saturday, and if the total for Sunday is correct and updated, just 2,500 doses.

Even figures as dispiriting as these represent an improvement upon the state’s abysmal start. In a little over six weeks, Virginia has administered 522,853 doses. Two weeks ago, I said that the state’s program made kidney stones look speedy and calculated that the state was on pace to vaccinate all adults by the summer of 2023. If they maintain the pace they’ve had for the past week, the state of Virginia will have all adults vaccinated by . . . the end of November.

This is a matter of life and death, but not enough to work weekends, apparently. Which leads us to our second oddity in the morning news . . .

Houston DA: Use a Vaccine on an Unapproved Person, We’ll Charge You with Shoplifting

Do we want medical personnel vaccinating as many people or not? Because some state health authorities sure act as if they would rather that doses go to waste than that they be used on someone who isn’t in an approved priority category. I regret to inform you that this mentality isn’t just at work in New York governor Andrew Cuomo’s short-sighted rules, but in a district attorney’s office in Texas:

A Harris County judge on Monday dismissed the case against a doctor accused of stealing doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine and administering them after hours.

Dr. Hasan Gokal, a former Harris County Public Health doctor, was fired earlier this month after allegedly swiping a vial of the vaccine and administering doses off site on Dec. 29, according to the Harris County District Attorney’s Office.

But in an order issued Monday, Harris County Court-At-Law Judge Franklin Bynum threw out the case for lack of probable cause and slammed the DA’s office for its “novel theory” that administering the vaccines amounted to theft under Texas law.

“In the number of words usually taken to describe an allegation of retail shoplifting, the State attempts, for the first time, to criminalize a doctor’s documented administration of vaccine doses during a public health emergency,” the order said. “The Court emphatically rejects this attempted imposition of the criminal law on the professional decisions of a physician.”

. . . On Friday, Gokal’s lawyer Paul Doyle said doctors had just punctured a new vial of the vaccine as the day began to wind down, starting a six-hour shelf life for the doses inside. Gokal was afraid the leftover doses would expire or be thrown in the trash, Doyle said, and so he began a search for people who met the criteria for vaccination under the state’s Phase 1 plan — front-line workers, people 65 and older, and those with underlying chronic health conditions.

He was eventually referred by friends and neighbors to people who qualified, most of whom were acquaintances, Doyle said. He administered the vaccine to at least eight of those people after hours, and with just 15 minutes remaining before the vaccine was set to hit its shelf life he used one last dose on his wife, who had pulmonary sarcoidosis, according to Doyle.

The patients were then entered into a state database on Dec. 30, Doyle said.

In a statement, Doyle said an apology from the county “will not be enough,” and that the doctor planned to file a wrongful termination lawsuit.

Which bring us to our third oddity in the morning news . . .

Is Vaccine Skepticism Really the Big Problem Yet?

You won’t see the Budweiser Clydesdales during the commercial breaks of the upcoming Super Bowl. Instead, Anheuser-Busch is putting the money it would have spent to a public-awareness campaign about the COVID-19 vaccines.

Anheuser-Busch said it won’t devote a Super Bowl commercial to its flagship Budweiser beer brand this year for the first time since 1983, pledging to redirect spending for the airtime to marketing campaigns related to Covid-19 vaccinations instead.

Budweiser said it is committing $1 million of ad inventory to vaccine awareness and education work by the Ad Council, a nonprofit that helps make public service campaigns, and to COVID Collaborative, a coalition of experts and institutions in public health and other areas. It will also produce multimillion-dollar vaccine awareness efforts throughout the year, executives said.

The Budweiser brand was deep into developing advertising for Super Bowl LV when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave its first approval to a vaccine against Covid-19, said Monica Rustgi, vice president of marketing at Budweiser. Its executives saw marketing playing a role in overcoming the hesitation about vaccinations among some consumers, she added, noting, “We’re not only a big beer brand but one of the biggest advertisers.”

On the same page as the Budweiser news, the Wall Street Journal reports, “Across industries, business leaders are turning to all-hands staff meetings, video memos and other workplace forums to address skepticism about the Covid-19 vaccine and encourage employees to get it when they can.”

Budweiser and these corporate leaders no doubt mean well, but it feels odd that we’re seeing a big, expensive effort to encourage more Americans to take the vaccine at a time when so many Americans want the vaccine and can’t get it. I’m hearing from octogenarian readers being told they’ll get it in mid March and septuagenarian readers being told they’ll get it in mid April — and those are the seniors who can get an appointment date. Websites are still crashing, phone lines are busy, and appointments fill up quickly. There’s something perverse and cruel about watching a public service announcement telling you to get vaccinated when getting an appointment feels like hunting for a golden Wonka Ticket.

Apparently, a surprising number of medical personnel, who were put at the front of our metaphorical line, are taking a pass:

It is happening in nursing homes and, to a lesser degree, in hospitals, with employees expressing what experts say are unfounded fears of side effects from vaccines that were developed at record speed. More than three weeks into the campaign, some places are seeing as much as 80% of the staff holding back.

“I don’t think anyone wants to be a guinea pig,” said Dr. Stephen Noble, a 42-year-old cardiothoracic surgeon in Portland, Oregon, who is postponing getting vaccinated. “At the end of the day, as a man of science, I just want to see what the data show. And give me the full data.”

Alarmed by the phenomenon, some administrators have dangled everything from free breakfasts at Waffle House to a raffle for a car to get employees to roll up their sleeves. Some states have threatened to let other people cut ahead of health care workers in the line for shots.

There are a lot of seniors and a lot of people who are immunocompromised or who have other health issues who would love to get vaccinated, and they’re perfectly fine missing out on free breakfast at Waffle House or a raffle for a car.

(As for that cardiothoracic surgeon who thinks he’s being asked to be a “guinea pig” . . . what does he think the tens of thousands of volunteers in the two companies’ three rounds of testing were? We’ve vaccinated 23 million Americans so far — what, he wants a bigger sample size?)

ADDENDUM: The editors of NR take aim at the anti-constitutional ninnies who want either the FCC or cable providers to shut down Fox News and any other cable channel they deem a menace.

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