The new year has brought new hope with the new vaccine, and with it new challenges.
During the darkest months of 2020, as we battled this raging pandemic, the hope off in the distance of an effective and safe vaccine kept many of us going. When the reports started coming out about the safety and efficacy of the first two of these vaccines, from Pfizer and Moderna, healthcare workers seemed almost universally to breathe a collective sigh of relief.
As I described previously, my colleagues and I felt a sense of urgency, giddy anticipation, and palpable joy as we stood in line to get our first dose of the vaccine last month. We felt like we’d finally reached a place where we could start to see a faint glimmer of light up ahead. And this has continued, matched on social media by people posting countless vaccine selfies, reveling in their first dose as a prayer answered, and thanking the second dose for the immune surge we feel going on in our bodies.
But now begins the daunting task of getting to the rest of the population, the whole rest of the world, to finally be protected. There are huge issues of logistics, as well as overcoming mistrust and fear, and now more than ever we need to let science guide the public discourse as we try to move forward.
Those of us in practice have been deluged by emails, phone calls, portal messages, and texts from patients desperate to get the vaccine. We wish we could accommodate them all on Day One.
Over the past quarter-century taking care of people in the outpatient setting, and indeed since the first vaccines became available, convincing people to update their adult vaccines has been one of the many challenges we’ve all faced. We’ve all tried our best to help our patients overcome vaccine hesitancy, their fear of catching the flu from the flu vaccine, the rumors they’d heard about people who got a shot and soon thereafter became ill. “Every time I get the flu shot I get the flu, but the years I skip it I’m fine” is really hard to argue with.
It seems that the current environment is all the more daunting, what with social media platforms pushing conspiracy theories about microchips and government experimentation, and it feels like we may never be able to completely regain the trust of all of our patients. But for now, it’s got to be worth trying to do this right, to ensure that everyone can have access to the vaccine if they want it.
We need to ensure that adequate and accurate public service messaging is pushed out there, that all people have all the right information they need to make smart decisions for themselves, their families, and their communities. But we, the healthcare system as a whole, and the state and federal governments that are standing beside us, need to make sure that things go smoothly, that we don’t end up with lines of senior citizens waiting 24 hours in the freezing cold to get a vaccine, that people don’t get turned away or disenfranchised, and that people don’t end up with differential access to what should be a right for everybody. We cannot rely on scheduling systems that need computers or cellphones or broadband access to an Internet portal; we need to make this vaccine available in every neighborhood, in every community, in every city.
For now, it seems clear that in many places, the earliest rollouts will have to be at large designated sites that can effectively handle large groups of people. So perhaps the states are working on plans to use sites like post offices, armories, libraries, sports arenas, and convention centers — access near where people live, near where they work, and everywhere in between. We need to demand that the process is as seamless and as effortless as possible, as foolproof as any massive effort like this can be. If vaccine gets wasted, if communities get ignored, if someone can’t find someone’s name on an out-of-date list, then we have failed.
Spread it evenly, spread it far and wide, but do what we have to do to get the vaccines into the arms of everybody we can.
Last Updated January 11, 2021