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Vaccine Distribution Issues Put Economic Recovery Hopes On Hold

As anyone who has ever been through a long and agonizing wait knows, the longest part of any waiting period is always the end. With two COVID-19 vaccines approved and in circulation — and another on the way — there’s light at the end of the tunnel. But the wait for that light is starting to dim as vaccine distribution issues are showing themselves early in the process. It’s leaving many, including President-elect Joe Biden publicly questioning whether there is more that could be done to speed the process.

“As I long feared and warned, the effort to distribute and administer the vaccine is not progressing as it should,” Biden said, according to reports.

Biden then outlined his plans to administer 100 million shots in his first 100 days in office, a plan he said will require funds from Congress and deeper federal involvement with state distributions. Biden has also announced his intention to use the Defense Authorization Act to get companies to ramp up production of the materials needed for the vaccines and protective equipment for healthcare workers. And though all of that will speed up the pace, according to the president-elect, it will still be a lengthy and time-consuming process.

“It will take more time than anyone would like and more time than the promises of the Trump administration,” Biden said. “This is going to be the greatest operational challenge we’ve ever faced as a nation.”

And indeed the logistical challenges of trying to ultimately vaccinate approximately 300 million Americans in short order have already proven to be formidable — according to the federal government, as of Monday (Dec. 28) 11.5 million doses of the vaccine have been sent to the states so far and roughly 2 million people have gotten their first dose, according to data compiled by NBC News from federal and state agencies. According to Brett Giroir, the administration’s testing czar, by week’s end the expectation is the federal government will have distributed 15.6 million doses of the vaccine to states and another 4.2 million next week.

“It has only been 15 days since the first shot got in people’s arms so we do expect that to ramp up, the state plans will ramp up over the next week or two, we expected that to accelerate,” Giroir said Tuesday on MSNBC.

How fast that ramp-up will actually be possible, however, remains a bit of a mystery as the transition between two presidential administrations is underway and plans seem very much a work in progress laden with a massive collection of known unknowns to contend with.

What is known, and clearly demonstrated by PYMNTS/PayPal data is how fundamental the distribution of a vaccine is for any hope of consumer returning to something resembling a “normal” life that includes travel, going to events, eating in restaurants or physically shopping in stores. When asked, 59 percent of consumers said that they would need to know that a COVID-19 vaccine was readily available before feeling comfortable returning to their pre pandemic routines — making it the single most important factor to consumers deciding to get back out there.

Moreover, a recent vaccine survey by PYMNTS strongly indicates that getting the logistics under control and distribution speed ramped up remain only half the battle here. Nearly as many consumers that are familiar with news of a vaccine and say they definitely or likely would not get a vaccine (38.4 percent) say they definitely or very likely will (37.9 percent). The remainder say they are somewhat likely to get vaccinated. The fact that nearly 40 percent of consumers have no desire to get vaccinated may be surprising to some. Our research also indicates that consumer interest in getting vaccinated splits along generational lines.

For the vaccine to do its work properly in creating her immunity, roughly 80 percent of the population would need to get it. Consumer intention quite obviously lags that figure. Why won’t consumers get the vaccine? A study of the question is on the way. Researchers at the University of Connecticut are currently experimenting with the best kind of messaging to inspire the unsure and unwilling to get their vaccine.

“My hope is that we can learn something and transfer this thinking about messaging to try and increase people’s tendency to get flu vaccinations,” said Natalie Shook, a social psychologist and associate professor in the UConn School of Nursing. “I hope there are broader implications from this work than just COVID-19 vaccination.”

Shook and her team have found that “germ aversion and disgust are strongly tied to concern about COVID-19 and engaging in preventive health behaviors. They also discovered that greater disgust sensitivity is connected to a greater willingness to accept a COVID-19 vaccine.”

Though given the amount of disruption that COVID-19 has already caused, if Shook can only figure out how to motivate COVID-19 vaccine compliance narrowly, that would be a big win for everyone.

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