Opinion: Besting a virus that thrives on chaos

It’s time to treat the COVID-19 vaccine campaign as if we are at war and act boldly to increase speed of inoculations.

The abysmal attempt at mass vaccination against COVID-19 in the United States is uninspiring — a prophecy seemingly set in stone by the failures of the testing debacles.

COVID-19 does not care who the president is. The virus’s only objective is finding a host and replicating, regardless of political party. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported as of January 20, that of 35.9 million doses, only 16.5 million had been administered. That’s only 45% of distributed doses in over one month. Of the possible 528 million doses to achieve herd immunity (roughly 264 million people), we are at 3%. At this rate, it would take 3 years to achieve that. We need to increase the speed to at least 3 million vaccinations a day.

Jesse O'Shea, M.D.
Jesse O'Shea, M.D.

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

The federal government has mostly left it up to the states to distribute the vaccines they are sent and the states often punt the decisions to local hospitals and health departments — already overburdened with COVID-19 care. The rate of employee vaccinations occurring in hospitals should be an indicator of what is to come: a snail’s pace of mass vaccination while thousands die every day. The current debate of releasing the doses in national stockpile is irrelevant if we cannot get vaccines into people’s arms.

The number of American deaths from COVID-19 has surpassed the lives lost during World War II. We need national strategy, funding, and infrastructure. We had months to prepare, there are no more excuses. To be clear, we are at war with COVID-19. Let’s begin to treat it as such.

We need all-hands-on-deck mobilization. Let’s call upon the United States Public Health Service Corps, the Medical Reserve Corps, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), American Red Cross, and our military to help build a literal army of vaccinators. In addition, we need to work through national associations while also enlisting community health workers who are not already exhausted hospital employees. We need to invest in human capital.

We need vaccination center infrastructure. Given the failures of COVID-19 testing, we now know that relying on pharmacies, clinics, and hospitals alone will likely be inadequate. We need to set up mass vaccination centers – such as utilizing stadiums, athletic fields, or military-style pavilions, capable of inoculating thousands every day. Ideally, these would be open with extended and late hours. For hard-to-reach communities, we need mobile units.

President Biden announced Thursday that the Defense Production Act would be used to ramp up vaccination supplies to help ensure shortages do not occur. This can provide private companies the ability to fast-track contracts to accelerate supply, secure more of the vaccine, and increase the availability of supporting equipment like materials and syringes. This welcome move should have been done earlier.

We need innovation to streamline processes – such as a national app and website to complete consent and paperwork prior to arrival. This would allow someone to simply show up at their allocated time and receive the vaccine. These formats should also incorporate widespread educational campaigns to combat disinformation. Disinformation has corrupted impressionable minds and turned scientific feats into conspiracy.

The new Biden administration could have big impact on COVID-19 vaccine, precautions in Georgia
The new Biden administration could have big impact on COVID-19 vaccine, precautions in Georgia

Lastly, we need all of these steps to occur with urgency and transparency. In order to win our battle against COVID-19, there must be unity in our country. The virus thrives on chaos.

The cavalry has arrived against our war with COVID-19. Vaccines have proven to be safe and effective – but in order to work, they need to be injected. We must demand our federal government to lead us into battle and step up with wartime-like mobilization of resources. Too many Americans have died – we deserve better.

Jesse O’Shea, M.D., is an infectious disease physician in Atlanta.

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