Let The Failures Of Government Vaccine Distribution Be A Warning

Last week, former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb suggested that we “hit the reset” button on Covid-19 vaccine distribution.

That reset should include taking the government out of the equation. The government has largely failed to get life-saving vaccines into the arms of Americans. And the consequences are deadly.

The government’s botched rollout of the coronavirus vaccine stands out as Exhibit A in the argument against more government control over our health care.

Amazingly, inventing a safe and effective Covid-19 vaccine may turn out to have been the easy part. Less than a year after the first coronavirus case was identified in the United States, vaccines developed by Cambridge, Mass.-based Moderna and by U.S. drug titan Pfizer and German start-up BioNTech received emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Johnson & Johnson just released promising clinical-trial data showing that its one-dose vaccine candidate is both safe and effective. It is poised to enter Phase 3 FDA trials very soon.

Now, those two approved vaccines are sitting in freezers. Of the 31 million vaccine doses distributed nationwide, only 12 million have been administered to patients.

Confusion reigns among the web of government entities at the federal and state levels responsible for distribution.

In Florida, local public health departments don’t know when they’ll receive vaccine doses, or how many doses they’ll get, until shortly before the shipment is on their doorsteps.

According to a Jan. 11 article published in The Washington Post, officials in San Antonio, Texas, hadn’t heard from General Gustave Perna, head of Operation Warp Speed, in more than a month.

Some states are strangling healthcare providers with red tape. In December, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo threatened a $1 million fine for healthcare providers that vaccinated someone outside of the current priority group. Earlier this month, he announced a $100,000 fine for hospitals that didn’t administer their vaccine doses within a week of receipt.

That preference for equity over efficiency has precluded many New York providers from administering vaccines at all. Across New York, officials have had to throw out refrigerated doses because they couldn’t find a recipient who matched the guidelines for the state’s priority groups.

Gov. Cuomo only loosened the state’s parameters to include more people last week. It was the second time in two days he’d changed the rules for vaccine rollout.

Amid distribution challenges, some counties and states have launched their own vaccine reservation websites. Many of them have crashed. Others—like New York’s 51-step online questionnaire—have proven difficult to navigate for seniors, who are generally in the highest-priority group for vaccination.

“There was never a plan to vaccinate the American people,” Dr. Peter Hotez, Co-Director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children’s Hospital, recently told ABC News.

One would assume the government would jump at the opportunity to leverage the expertise of private interests that have historically vaccinated huge chunks of the population, like pharmacies and even retail clinics. But the plan to involve big pharmacy giants, like CVS and Walgreens, in vaccination efforts was only approved January 6.

These seem like plans that could’ve been finalized months ago, while we were all waiting for a vaccine.

All this foot-dragging and poor planning has been deadly. The number of daily deaths, on a seven-day average basis, has not dipped below 2,000 since the first vaccines were approved in December.

Dysfunction at all levels of government is to blame for these deaths. After this abject disaster, it’s a wonder that anyone could ever want to put the government in charge of the entire healthcare system.

Sally C. Pipes is President, CEO, and Thomas W. Smith Fellow in Health Care Policy at the Pacific Research Institute. Her latest book is False Premise, False Promise: The Disastrous Reality of Medicare for All (Encounter 2020). Follow her on Twitter @sallypipes.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

Scroll to Top