Last April, when my daughter, a nurse at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan, entered work, she walked past a line of refrigerator trucks outside the hospital containing the bodies of COVID19 victims. The hospital’s morgue was full.
We were all horrified and knew that we were experiencing a catastrophic health crisis. In a miraculously short period of time, scientists around the world were able to develop and test several vaccines to combat the pandemic. One would think that our national, state and local governments would have started to build systems to effectively and equitably distribute the vaccine when it became obvious that we faced an emergency of historic proportions. That did not happen.
The Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic was incompetent, incoherent and deliberately misled the public. But the state of Maryland still should have planned for the eventual distribution of the vaccines. The state government has the name, address, date of birth, phone and email address for every taxpayer, driver, vehicle owner, voter, licensed medical provider, educator and first responder in the state.
It has been a year since we recognized that we were experiencing a pandemic. Why didn’t the state of Maryland use those resources to create systems to effectively prioritize, organize and deliver the vaccine to Maryland residents? It would be a challenging task, but the technology required is well established.
Citizens are faced with a chaotic, confusing and infuriating search for the vaccine. We have to spend hours checking multiple websites for vaccine availability. The lack of transparency leads to rampant rumors about where the vaccine is available and who has a connection or receives special treatment. Each vaccine provider maintains its own process for determining eligibility and list of potential recipients. As the availability of vaccines increases, each provider will waste time and resources contacting people who have already been vaccinated due to a lack of coordination. Primary care providers, anticipating that they would be delivering the vaccine, invested in the expensive equipment required to store and deliver the vaccine and in training staff only to be excluded from the delivery process. There is no centralized record of who was vaccinated, date inoculated, or the vaccines delivered. And we can’t tell if the most vulnerable members of the community are being adequately served.
This is an epic failure that is causing frustration, distrust and has further eroded our faith in our governments at every level. Maryland should have done better.