After months of preparation, chaotic vaccine rollout is inexcusable

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: U.S. must reckon with continued flaws in COVID-19 response as vaccine distribution, administration lag

Illustration of a syringe containing the COVID-19 vaccine, marked in terms of vaccine rollout phases and breaking in half to reveal the White House
Jericho Tang/Staff

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Almost as soon as COVID-19 began to spread in the United States, the public waited in anticipation as scientists raced to discover a vaccine that might lead the country back to pre-pandemic life.

Now that vaccines have gained federal approval, it seems many of our elected officials — tasked with overseeing the distribution and administration of vaccines, a Herculean effort — have also spent the past months twiddling their thumbs. 

Hiccups are to be expected in an undertaking of this caliber, but rather than use vaccination as an opportunity to rectify the disunity and dysfunction of the initial U.S. response to COVID-19, officials at all levels of government have once again dropped the ball.

California is no exception. As of Sunday, the state ranked in the bottom five U.S. states in number of vaccines administered relative to the total number distributed, at about only 30 percent. In an apparent effort to hasten vaccination, California Gov. Gavin Newsom recently made all Californians aged 65 or older eligible to receive a dose, immediately bumping them above other priority groups such as educators. But instead of injecting life into the state’s vaccination program, this pronouncement has only made the situation more confusing. Across California, system failures and website crashes have led to vaccines being administered to people who are not yet eligible to receive them.

The lack of adequate planning and clear messaging from state government and health officials is untenable, particularly now, as California works to fend off one of the worst spikes in COVID-19 cases and deaths since the start of the pandemic. The initial sluggish response to the pandemic helped fuel its spread nationwide. That many elected leaders seem not to have learned from missteps from almost a year prior is disappointing.

Compared to other parts of California, Berkeley has done an impressive job coordinating vaccination. While Berkeley remains in the first phase of vaccination and the process is gradual, the city reports it has administered more than 90 percent of allotted doses, far outpacing California and the United States as a whole.

As Berkeley awaits more doses, city officials must spend this time wisely, deciding exactly who will receive the vaccine and when, so new doses can be administered as soon as they become available. As the city gears up to vaccinate larger swaths of the population, leaders must also secure vaccination centers that are accessible and staffed with enough health care workers trained to administer the vaccine in order to preempt further delay. 

Today marks the eve of the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden. As he looks to break from his predecessor, developing a unified and deliberate national approach to vaccination must become a top priority. There must also be a coordinated effort to restore American trust in the safety and necessity of the vaccine, as widespread misinformation continues to threaten what has been a shaky start to inoculation.

Thus far, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a show of American malfunction. The moral and mortal costs of further malfunction have not yet been higher.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the editorial board as written by the spring 2021 opinion editor, Jericho Rajninger.