Jan 13, 2021 - Health

How Biden could help speed up coronavirus vaccinations

Illustration of a speedometer with a syringe in the middle
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Joe Biden's ability to improve coronavirus vaccinations across the U.S. will largely depend on stronger partnerships with the states, experts said.

Why it matters: The next several months will present a new, whack-a-mole set of problems, all with tough tradeoffs.

The big picture: “I think that outreach and offering of assistance...would be a different approach from what we’ve seen before during the pandemic,” said Eric Toner, a senior scholar with the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

  • “They should be asking each locale, 'What is it you need to meet this target we are setting for you?'” said Leana Wen, a visiting professor at George Washington University, adding that “the federal government can streamline” many inefficiencies for states and localities.

Details: Cities and states are facing a variety of challenges, and federal help would likely often involve working through individual locations' specific issues with them.

  • It could also mean communicating national best practices, sending teams of officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help states on the ground, working with states on how to phase in different priority groups, and providing the resources — including funding — that states will need to run mass vaccination sites.
  • The federal government could also incentivize efficient distribution by creating strict rules for states about how quickly they must administer doses before they're diverted elsewhere, Wen wrote in a recent WaPo op-ed about how the federal government could speed up the vaccine process.
  • It could also help with recruiting vaccinators by working with national associations, removing licensing barriers and covering liability protection, Wen adds.

Where it stands: The Trump administration announced yesterday that it’s expanding access to the vaccines, and adopted on its own some of the changes Biden has said he would make.

Yes, but: Opening the eligibility floodgates could create its own set of logistical problems.

  • “I think just throwing open the doors to this very large group without time for preparation, without having logistics of the mass vaccination clinics established, without working with the pharmacies…I think it is a recipe for chaos,” Toner said.
  • If demand starts to outstrip supply, governments and health systems will have to tighten their eligibility criteria back up or experiment with new, untested dosing regimens — responses that would likely benefit from federal guidance.
  • And speeding up the vaccination process may also require additional federal funding.

The bottom line: Partnering with cities and states doesn’t make for a great campaign slogan, but it’s what governors and health care officials say this process needs.

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