By Rishi Kulkarni
As the COVID-19 pandemic hit its one-year anniversary in December, many people, including myself, were eager for vaccine distribution to provide some relief to the situation. Instead, I was immensely disappointed by what I felt was a disastrous vaccine distribution campaign; in December, the United States was 20 million vaccines short of its distribution goal. Meanwhile, Israel was one of the fastest vaccine distributors in the world. The vaccine rollout in the United States had a slow start accompanied by a myriad of problems in the vaccine supply chain. To illustrate the shortcomings of the vaccine rollout in the US, I will be discussing the key differences between the US approach to vaccine distribution and Israel’s approach.
Israel’s Success Story
We can look to Israel for an example of a successful vaccine distribution model. As of March 17th, Israel had delivered over 3 times as many shots per 100 people compared to the US. There are some differences that might partially explain Israel’s success, such as its smaller area and population, but these are not sufficient to dismiss the 3 attributes of Israel’s distribution plan that made it successful: data management, control of skepticism, and staffing.
Israel’s population is connected to a national health network, making it easier for people to sign up for appointments and allowing the government to identify where there are shortages and excess of vaccines. Israel employed a comprehensive anti-skepticism campaign; the Prime Minister being the first Israeli to receive the vaccine to elicit trust, and government officials consulted with orthodox religious media and community leaders to relieve any hesitancy for getting the vaccine. Israel also solved staffing shortages by calling on retired healthcare workers to deliver vaccines in elderly homes, allowing primary care providers to stay in hospitals. From a purely logistical standpoint, Israel’s vaccine campaign was an absolute success. The United States, however, was missing a number of key elements that helped Israel’s vaccine rollout be so successful.
Inefficient Distribution System
One of the most significant contrasts between the US and Israel is the lack of a centralized data and planning system for the US. Although some states are using a system that Deloitte created under a contract for the government, most states and counties are relying on their own solutions for scheduling shots and tracking inventory. This has led to mismanagement and chaos. People are waiting for hours in vaccine lines, hospitals are canceling appointments due to inaccurate inventory tracking, and elderly people are finding it difficult to arrange for a vaccine because of how difficult it is to figure things out online. Some counties are even using Eventbrite and Google Forms to schedule appointments: this is hardly the pinnacle of medical scheduling technology.
The most severe consequence of this problem is the potential for vaccines to expire due to bad inventory management and appointment scheduling. The federal funds dedicated to the distribution of the vaccine were incredibly insufficient. The US needed a much higher budget for logistical planning, as well as a much higher degree of organization if the vaccine rollout were to be a success.
Lack of Public Information Campaign
Misinformation is a uniquely pervasive problem in the US. 1 in 3 Americans say they probably won’t get the vaccine. In some states, even healthcare workers are expressing hesitancy about getting the vaccine. Whereas Israel combatted misinformation with a highly targeted, community-focused campaign, the US made no such effort to target misinformation at any level. The US should have started fighting against misinformation with a much more aggressive campaign, and the process should’ve started during vaccine development. Heightened vaccine skepticism may have turned into an irreversible problem because it was left unchecked for so long.
The US was already facing a shortage of healthcare workers even before the pandemic: the issue was only exacerbated by COVID-19. Many states are enacting last-ditch efforts to fill staffing shortages. Some are even recruiting firefighters to help deliver vaccines 3. While Israel began filling staffing shortages before the vaccine was even ready for deployment, the US was late to the game. Now, distribution centers are facing high demands for service but can’t handle it. The preparation for an extreme staffing shortage should have started long before the vaccine distribution was initiated. Additionally, the US could have made use of stores such as CVS or Walgreens much earlier on to reduce the strain on healthcare facilities.
Although US vaccination rates have gotten somewhat better since December, it is undeniable that the US had a rocky start to the rollout. The US should have followed Israel’s distribution model by nationalizing the distribution system, fighting against misinformation, and controlling staffing shortages. In doing so, the US could have prevented further deaths from COVID-19, alleviated the pressure on hospitals, and helped quicken the economic recovery that we’re all looking forward to.
Elflein, John. “Rate of COVID-19 Vaccination by Country 2021.” Statista, Statista, 17 Mar. 2021, http://www.statista.com/statistics/1194939/rate-covid-vaccination-by-county-worldwide/.
Timsit, Annabelle. “Three Countries Have Pulled Far Ahead of the Rest of the World in Distributing Covid-19 Vaccines.” Quartz, Quartz, 11 Jan. 2021, http://www.qz.com/1953007/the-countries-with-the-most-effective-covid 19-vaccine-rollouts/.
Bellon, Tina, and Melissa Fares. “U.S. States Enlist Medical, Nursing Students to Give out COVID-19 Vaccine.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 24 Dec. 2020, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-vaccine nurses/u-s-states-enlist-medical-nursing-students-to-give-out-covid-19-vaccine-idUSKBN28Y124.