America had no trouble hitting the appalling milestone of 20 million coronavirus cases, but reaching the federal government’s own target of vaccinating 20 million people by the end of 2020 proved a huge problem.
Just under three million Americans were vaccinated by the time the crystal-encrusted ball dropped in New York’s almost-deserted Times Square at midnight on New Year’s Eve to mark the end of a hellish year.
Now US distribution of the vaccine is being routinely described as “chaos”, with criticism that inept officials are “botching” efforts.
More than 10,000 people died in the US in the last three days of 2020 alone, to bring the national death toll close to 350,000 so far, including the worst 24-hour toll of the whole pandemic when more than 3,700 people died last Wednesday, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
So vaccines are the big hope for fighting the outbreak. But experts are warning that hundreds of thousands more deaths are possible if the inoculation process doesn’t get quickly and solidly on track.
“Basically, the federal government is botching the vaccine rollout,” said Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s school of public health.
“They thought their job ends when the vaccine arrives in the states, and there’s really no well-delineated plan.”
He added: “What America is suffering through is the consequence of incompetence in federal leadership – the entire pandemic has been marred by a group of people, not just Donald Trump – who don’t understand how things work and can’t get something to work effectively.”
Jha noted that he was not including top US infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci or White House coronavirus task force coordinator Deborah Birx among this group.
If the rollout continues at the current pace, Jha said, it could take “many, many months and years” to fulfill vaccination goals for the nation.
And if this delay continues for months, it could cause the US to lose “several hundred thousand more people”, he warned.
An NBC analysis earlier this week found that at this present vaccination rate, “it would take almost 10 years to inoculate enough Americans to get the pandemic under control”.
The breakthrough new vaccines coming on stream so far in the west from Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and Oxford University/AstraZeneca are lifesavers, with more still in trial.
“The vaccine looks like it can reduce the risk of … symptomatic Covid,” said Bruce Y Lee, professor at CUNY graduate school of public health and health policy in New York.
But he warned: “Every week, two week, three-week delay, while the cases are pushing up further, is costing lives – and especially if we’re talking about healthcare professionals.”
The state of vaccines being administered to the public in many US areas stems from a combination of scant funding and scattered logistics.
Public health in the US is chronically under-funded. Local and state officials had long warned federal authorities that they required more than $8bn in additional money to build an infrastructure to get shots into arms. Instead, the White House gave states just $340m for vaccination preparations.
For months, some…