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Locally, COVID-19 vaccine’s rollout has been bumpy

The push to develop vaccines for COVID-19 was called Operation Warp Speed, but the delivery of two vaccines approved so far might be called Operation Hurry Up and Wait. Tennessee, overall, has done well in getting the vaccines into the arms of healthcare workers, nursing home residents and employees, and other frontline workers, but it is still slow-going. There are more people than vaccines, thus resulting in long waits.
Much of the blame for the bumpy start belongs to those who allowed the pandemic to explode — President Trump and his senior officials. While the president can take credit for getting a vaccine rapidly developed, his administration bungled the delivery by handing the vaccines to the states and essentially saying: “Don’t look to us for help.”
Statewide, much of the responsibility for distribution has been handed off to county health departments, which have been strained by soaring COVID-19 cases and testing. And, for some the added demands of distributing the vaccine have been overwhelming.
In Tennessee, it does seem like county health departments are a big piece of the puzzle. It has been hard to meet the demand with limited health department resources.
The slowness of the rollout also reflects the state’s decision to vaccinate the most vulnerable first. Following CDC guidelines, the state began with frontline healthcare workers and long-term health facility residents and staff. Some counties have moved on to the next group, people 75 and older.
Reaching a priority population takes more time, but, in the end, more lives are saved.
Perhaps the most frustrating part of the rollout isn’t so much a shortage of vaccine — that was expected — it’s a shortage of information. Too many Tennesseans don’t know when their turn will come and where they should go to get the vaccination.
For example, vaccine information for Thursday, Jan. 14, and Friday, Jan. 15, showed no vaccine currently available for Carter County, Greene or Hawkins counties; a limited supply for Johnson, Unicoi, and Washington County, but was available to Sullivan County in large enough supply to do a clinic at the Bristol Dragway. In fact, the department was scheduled to give the vaccine all week at the dragway.
This week, the Tennessee Department of Health in an effort to ease the process rolled out a data base that can be used to better shape the distribution and keep people informed about their access to a vaccination.
On a positive note, President-elect Joe Biden said his administration will increase states’ vaccine allotments by releasing all available doses, instead of holding half back to ensure the required second doses are available. He has also promised to provide the states with more funding, equipment and help with logistics.
The federal government has also reached agreements with a number of pharmacy chains — including CVS, Walgreen, Walmart and Cosco — to administer vaccines in their stores and other locations once vaccines become more widely available.
Both federal and state officials said the rate of acceleration should be going up over the coming week. Until then and surely beyond, Tennessee officials will need to be more resourceful and flexible in finding ways to expeditiously get the vaccine — and information about it — to all who want it.