Why is Virginia falling behind? Johns Hopkins professor explains COVID-19 vaccine rollout issues

COVID-19 Vaccine

BALTIMORE, Md. (WRIC) — Precious resources are being wasted when it comes to the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines throughout the U.S., according to medical officials at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.

Dr. Chris Beyrer and Dr. Monica Schoch-Spana agree that while there are opportunities for the new Biden-Harris Administration to implement a rapid, coordinated response to the coronavirus pandemic, the administration also inherited challenges from the previous Trump-Pence Administration, under which vaccine rollout was left up to the states.

“That is a huge challenge for the Biden-Harris Administration, is harmonizing and trying to work with the states, and, of course, they’re under-resourced to do this,” Beyrer said.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of Jan. 26, Virginia is ranked 41 out of 59 states and territories in terms of the state’s percentage of residents who are fully vaccinated.

“There are states that are doing significantly better,” Beyrer said. “For the most part, where that has happened, it has been because the governors were paying attention to scientific expertise, to the public health experts, listening to the epidemiologist, and working closely with their local health authorities.”

While Beyrer is encouraged by the biomedical research infrastructure in the U.S. that allowed the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines to achieve authorization for emergency use through the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), he also says there is a severe lack of support that has left the public health system unable to keep up with inoculations.

“We’ve had a 20-year disinvestment in the public health infrastructure, and so it’s, perhaps, not surprising, but really a hugely challenging and unfortunate reality that our public health system and our implementation system to deliver vaccines is nowhere near the level of our biomedical infrastructure to develop these vaccines,” Beyrer said. “That is something that we’re really going to have to work on as a country, and very, very quickly, while we’re rolling out these vaccines.”

In addition to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, the AstraZeneca vaccine has been approved for emergency use in the United Kingdom and is being rolled out there. Beyrer is also looking forward to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which would be a single-dose. Officials say the company is expected to apply for emergency use authorization from the FDA within the coming days.

However, Beyrer says the world is still in a period of vaccine scarcity, where there is greater demand than supply, and that could continue for several months.

“The best estimate is that we probably won’t have enough vaccine for every adult who wants one in this country until probably June, maybe July,” he said. “We can’t be in a situation where there are whole segments of the population with lower or much lower immunization rates because then we won’t achieve the public health goal of immunizing enough of the population to get ahead of the virus.”

Although there are more vaccines undergoing trials now, the issue of distribution remains.

“The state and local entities that are tasked with doing this really need the resources,” Beyrer said. “That’s got to change quickly.”

Beyrer says initial administration and storage issues led to doses of the vaccine being wasted, though he does not know exactly how many doses, referencing only anecdotal data.

“There have been some challenges where a vaccine has been prepared for use, defrosted, cannot be refrozen, and then people who had appointments scheduled to be immunized either couldn’t come or didn’t come for whatever reason, and some times, those does have been wasted,” he said. “We have not invested in a great national surveillance system at this point.”

That lack of investment is what Beyrer says is now opening the U.S. up to further problems in managing the pandemic, as the virus spreads from host to host and mutates.

“We’re one of the countries that has a weaker molecular surveillance, as opposed to South Africa, which has done much better at this, or the U.K. That is really not something to be proud of,” Beyrer said. “We really need to invest in a national tracking system so that we’ll know how the vaccines are being used and we avoid this problem of waste. They are too precious to waste.”

Richmond City and Henrico County Health Districts Director Dr. Danny Avula, however, says he is confident that no COVID-19 vaccine doses have gone to waste in Virginia.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Senatara COVID-19 Infographic (Dec. 2020)

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