Duquesne epidemiologist says vaccine distribution is like a ‘train wreck in slow motion’

It is clear that the speed of the COVID vaccine’s rollout has been a disappointment, on both the state and national level.

  • Sarah Boden/WESA

(Pittsburgh) — Less than 42% of the more than 1 million vaccine doses allocated to Pennsylvania have been distributed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The amount of vaccine distributed might be higher than that number—data reporting on vaccinations can lag. But it is clear that the speed of the COVID vaccine’s rollout has been a disappointment, on both the state and national level.

There is plenty of blame to go around, according to Duquesne University epidemiologist David Dausey, who contends a big problem with the rollout is that there was little to no attention paid to planning or funding vaccine distribution by the federal government. That’s even though it was widely anticipated that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines would receive emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration before the end of 2020.

“The leadup and development of vaccines, that was fantastic,” said Dausey, who specializes in the performance of public health systems. “But, you know, just to absolve yourself of responsibility after that—saying that it’s the state’s issue—that’s patently absurd.”

The Allegheny County Health Department has told vaccine distributors to ask for help if they are having trouble contacting health care workers who are seeking vaccinations.

Right now, Pennsylvania is still working to inoculate health care workers, as well as people who live and work in skilled nursing facilities. People over age 75 will be among the next group of Pennsylvanians to get the COVID vaccine, though it is not clear exactly when this will occur.

Public health officials had warned back in June of the challenges of vaccine distribution, asking for federal funding to accomplish this monumental goal. The allocation of those funds was finally approved as part of the federal relief plan last month.

“You can’t just throw things to states and local health departments and say, ‘figure it out.’ The whole point of the federal government is that they are supposed to be the maestro here,” said Dausey, who likened the current vaccine distribution to a “train wreck in slow motion.”

The state’s Department of Health says part of the issue is that it does not know how much vaccine is coming to Pennsylvania, on a week-to-week basis.

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