States Are Not Set Up for Success for Complex Vaccine Distribution

First comes the vaccine. Then comes the gargantuan task of vaccine distribution.

Gloria Oh
Medium Coronavirus Blog

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Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

The first batch of Covid-19 vaccines could potentially be getting closer to being shipped as Pfizer and BioNTech’s 90% effective vaccine candidate awaits to clear key safety hurdles and FDA approval. If authorized, the drugmakers would pass the metaphorical vaccine baton onto state governments to facilitate the final point-of-delivery and administer vaccinations to millions of Americans across the country in what could arguably be described as the highest stakes supply chain relay race in human history.

But state governments are currently ill-equipped for the momentous vaccine baton handoff, as it were, and not successfully set up to execute the next phase of wide scale vaccine distribution due to lack of federal funding and a shortage in staffing resources. In late September, the CDC announced $200 million in grants to help states with vaccine planning and preparedness, but as Bloomberg News reports, that’s nowhere close to enough for nationwide implementation: “Organizations representing state health officials and immunization managers say $8.4 billion more is needed to run the largest mass vaccination effort in recent memory.”

On top of mounting financial constraints, states and local health agencies will be responsible for handling immense logistical challenges, such as keeping Pfizer’s vaccines at super-cold temperatures and handling transport to remote areas, all while corralling public support and engagement for the vaccine. State health officials will also have to triage aggressive timelines and determine the order in which different demographic groups will receive the vaccine.

To put things into perspective: It cost Pfizer an estimated $2 billion to develop its vaccine candidate. It will cost billions more for all 50 states to carry out the extremely complex logistics and delivery of the final vaccine product to the end user.

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Gloria Oh
Medium Coronavirus Blog

Senior Editor, Medium. Founding Editor of Index. Previously, The Atlantic.