January 24, 2021

How to Run Mass Vaccinations Redux

 NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday led off today with a story titled “Unpacking The Biden Administration's Coronavirus Strategy.” Dr. Carlos del Rio, Rollins Professor and chair of the Hubert Department of Global Health at Emory University, was interviewed by Lulu Garcia-Navarro. He reported on having just taken a turn inoculating people for the coronavirus. Some people were excited to get the vaccination, he said, but others were nervous. Apparently because he had conversations with the people being injected, Dr. del Rio was only able to vaccinate four or five people per hour.

Whereas we can all appreciate the doctor’s caring bedside manner, we should be appalled at the throughput he was able to achieve. A reasonable concern for efficiency would suggest that the person giving injections should not have to chitchat with patients. Giving injections does not require an epidemiologist.

Earlier this month, I suggested in a post—see “How to Run Mass Vaccinations”—that sites intent on maximizing the rate at which vaccinations can be given should use personnel wisely. Injections should not be given by doctors but by lower-level professionals skilled in the task. (My experience suggests that nurses, for example, are better at giving injections than are doctors simply because they are called upon to do it more often.) Less skilled people, likely not even medical personnel, should be checking people in and answering their questions, which are likely to be quite repetitive. Enough people should be doing this so that the queue of persons ready to be vaccinated is never empty. It may even be helpful to have a person whose only job is to fill syringes for the person actually delivering doses. There is no reason for the actual task of giving a vaccination to take as long as one minute. Medical personnel can be standing by to handle unusual questions or concerns and to respond to any unexpected reactions to being vaccinated.

Judging from the pictures I see on television, I have concluded that we are being less than smart about designing procedures for mass vaccination. Especially appalling are the long lines of automobiles queuing up for vaccinations. This is a waste of time and resources, and it seems to be driving some people crazy.

Here is a suggestion for delivering vaccine in many circumstances: In locations where there are many and conveniently located voting sites, why not use them for vaccinations? Certainly, in many cities—those run by Democrats, in any case—there are many polling locations, none of which serves an inordinate number of voters. In each on, on an announced, rotating basis, set up a vaccination group as I suggested in my earlier essay. Non-voters in the area served by a given site can be accommodated. People from outside the voting district can be served only if time and demand allow. This system may not be perfect, but it surely would be better than what is often being done.

With any luck, the Biden Administration will come to conclusions similar to my own. Someday, I hope to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Moreover, I hope it is this year!

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