Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Use 'em or lose 'em: Some facts and some observations about COVID-19 vaccinations

I truly wish the judges had gone somewhere other than Loretto Hospital. That said, however, there has been a lot of hot air expended concerning whether unused vaccines were at risk of being wasted.

I was recently directed to this article by Kwame Anthony Appiah on the New York Times Magazine website. (The accompanying illustration was lifted from that site.) In the course of answering a question from a 20-something reader about whether he should try and get in line for a COVID-19 vaccination, Professor Appiah provided some information that FWIW readers may find helpful (emphasis in original):

With anything perishable — whether it’s a head of lettuce or a defrosted carton of Covid-19 vaccines — you can have excess and spoilage amid an overall shortage. The minimum Pfizer vaccine order is a tray with about 1,200 doses; once the vials begin thawing, they have to be used in five days. With all the authorized vaccines, a vial, once opened, must be used within six hours — for Johnson & Johnson’s, it’s two hours at room temperature. Each Pfizer vial has up to six doses. Johnson & Johnson, which has a minimum order of 100 doses, puts five doses in a vial; Moderna will soon put 14 doses in each vial.

The point is that vaccines don’t come as “loosies.” Vaccination sites can misjudge the number of sign-ups, and even if everything is properly planned, there are sometimes no-shows. Even when a site has a standby list of qualified recipients, there will be occasional instances in which a vaccine will go to waste unless the eligibility rules are suspended.

None of this excuses Loretto Hospital arranging vaccinations at jewelry stores or suburban churches instead of in its own Austin community. And, as indicated, the vaccination site should have a "standby list" of qualified recipients to default to when extras become available. That's how my wife got her vaccination -- because she was a qualified person (a teacher) on a standby list.

CapitolFax.com had a roundup item this morning on vaccine availabiity Downstate. Among the items was this one, from Metropolis, Illinois (about as far away from Chicago as you can get and still be in Illinois), saying that walk-ins are now being accepted for vaccinations there.

I wish walk-ins might be accepted here, at least when leftovers might be available at the end of a vaccination center's appointment schedule, but that's not going to happen here any time soon. So even a responsible vaccination center may have to face the prospect of wasting vaccine -- which surely is a sin and a shame when so many are so anxious to get it -- or else bending, or ignoring, eligibility standards.

The Washington Post had an interesting graphic article last August, by Harry Stevens, entitled, "A vaccine, or a spike in deaths: How America can build herd immunity to the coronavirus." My takeaway: Herd immunity does not depend on vaccinating people in any certain order; rather, it depends on getting a critical percentage of persons vaccinated. In other words, even when the "ineligible" receive vaccinations out of turn, the population as a whole is benefitted. That should not be seen as a license to ignore the priorities set by the public health officials -- but it is a reminder that there is a benefit to the public from every shot that goes into an arm. Any arm.

The other thing that should be kept in mind is that all of these controversies should fade into irrelevance as vaccines become more widely available. That situation improves with every passing week. Only, apparently, not as fast in Chicago as elsewhere.


Related: Rep. Ford resigns in protest from Loretto Hospital board (coverage on CapitolFax.com).

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