The Imminent Failure of Vaccine Distribution in the US

By Lola Weber

January 21, 2021

News of finalized, FDA approved vaccines for COVID-19 felt like a triumphant and emotional moment for much of the world. Images and videos circulating of the first vaccine recipients further amplify this shared humanistic feeling, but the primary conflict of distribution still lingers. 

To recap previous promises of immediate vaccine distribution, one can begin with the Trump administration’s initial goal of distributing 40 million doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines by the end of 2020, which was not achieved with only 12.5 million doses distributed according to the CDC. This goal also had a target of 20 million administered vaccinations, one that was yet again unfulfilled with only 3 million administered vaccinations. 

The failure of general vaccine distribution and shipment isn’t the sole issue within this conflict, with state-by-state distribution’s own shortcomings. Various reports of Texas pharmacists left with no guidance to administer the vaccine, leading to expired doses, or Florida’s “first-come first-serve” basis, leaving vulnerable populations to wait in Black Friday-style lines, continue to show the neglect of carrying through with administering and encouraging vaccinations throughout the US. 

The US has been banking on these vaccines as their sole escape route from the pandemic, but even with months of planning and vast resources from being the wealthiest nation in the world, it still has not been executed. Nearly 400,000 lives have been lost to this virus, or rather an institutional failure of our government to combat it, leaving underfunded public health systems with insufficient resources to keep themselves and the population afloat. 

The two leading pharmaceutical companies in this debacle, Pfizer and Moderna, haven’t felt nearly any of their own faults in the failed distribution of their vaccine. Following their rapid progression and development of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine (which was ultimately based on previous publicly funded research from public institutions), Pfizer’s head sold 62 percent of his stock, the same day they would announce their promising vaccine trial results. Moderna executives would soon follow suit, further displaying the rapid efforts to capitalize on this public health crisis. 

The insider trading among executives at these Big Pharma companies does not just result in questionable ethics, but also feeds into anti-vaccination platforms and conspiracies, adding yet another impediment to the effective distribution and execution of vaccinations. Although the mere excitement of an effective vaccine feels like cause for celebration, it is apparent that there is quite a long way to go due to the inefficiency and unsustainable system we are blocked by. 

We have found ourselves in yet another similar position to that of last spring, where fights and tension between state leaders over adequate testing and ventilation machines were settled through economic power of individual states. Smaller states had consistently been out-bid by larger states for essential equipment, which seems to parallel the current tension over vaccine distribution. Towns that  lay outside of the metropolitan hubs of the U.S. will face the hardest time gaining any access to vaccines, not to mention those residing in developing nations which also rely on U.S. distribution. 

Of course, allocating all resources to metropolitan areas makes sense, considering population density, but generally, the most vulnerable populations (that being people over the age of 60), and poorer residents reside in these rural suburbs. Major hospitals are urgently purchasing the necessary (and extremely expensive) freezers to store and maintain the sensitive mRNA vaccines, once again leaving a hunt for essential materials, and trampling rural towns and underfunded hospitals in the unjust race. 

Once vaccines do reach areas of distribution to the general population, there is still another roadblock between vaccinating vulnerable people, and that lies within professional lobbying that reinforces corporate efforts to skip the line. Early last spring, Hollywood studios had cashed out copious amounts of money to lobby for ‘essential worker’ classification, which was successful. The National Hockey League successfully lobbied for prioritized vaccinations for their players, along with World Wrestling Entertainment, further displaying the evident flaws in distribution. 

The fact of the matter is that without adequate economic planning, there cannot be an equitable and effective rollout of these vaccines. We are plagued by self-interest, whether that be in pharmaceutical markets, or the market of national competition. 

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