Vaccine confusion abounds—and this is the easy stage

It’s been one month since the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was authorized for use in the U.S. Since then, about 22 million Pfizer and Moderna doses have been distributed—and at least 6.7 million of those have actually made it into people’s arms, according to the CDC. (The CDC is not yet tracking second doses.)

Despite the federal government’s intense push to get vaccines through safety trials, that “last mile” step—from the Pfizer and Moderna factories to people’s arms—has been under-planned and underfunded. In the past month, we’ve been shocked by news stories ranging from a Wisconsin medical employee “intentionally removing” doses from a refrigerator to a local journalist in Florida individually helping over 150 seniors register for vaccination appointments. 

State public health departments, already overwhelmed from ten months of running every other aspect of pandemic response, needed more money and resources to simultaneously coordinate millions of vaccinations and communicate their importance. The needed money didn’t come until this month, and recommendations from the federal government have left a lot of room for interpretation—leaving state and local health agencies scrambling.

And this first month was supposed to be the easy part! As The Atlantic’s Sarah Zhang explains, early U.S. vaccination efforts were aimed at easy-to-reach people: those in hospitals, nursing homes, and other long-term care facilities. In these locations, it’s easy to quickly identify the most vulnerable patients and get them registered for vaccination appointments. The next groups of eligible Americans will not be so easy to reach. Doctors’ offices, pharmacies, and many other businesses will need to figure out vaccine logistics while also ramping up campaigns to convince people to even get vaccinated in the first place.

(For a plain-language explanation of this issue that you can send to confused friends and relatives, I highly recommend the latest episode of the Sawbones podcast with Dr. Sydnee McElroy and Justin McElroy.)

When I updated my vaccine data annotations yesterday, I added notes on how the vaccine rollout is progressing in each state. For the 38 states (and D.C.) now reporting vaccinations, you’ll find two new fields: the state’s vaccination phase (1A, 1B, etc.; 31 states are reporting this) and any prominently featured information on how residents can get vaccinated, such as a registration portal or contact information for local public health departments (at least 12 states are doing this).

Please note that, while most states do not yet have state-wide vaccine registration portals, many local public health departments are setting up such portals at the regional and county level. I highly recommend searching for your local public health agency to see what they have available. Also, New Mexico, which has a registration portal but no vaccine data dashboard, is not included in the annotations.

State data availability (as of Jan. 9)

  • 39 jurisdictions are reporting some form of COVID-19 vaccination data on a dedicated page or dashboard
  • 16 states are reporting race and ethnicity of vaccinated residents
  • 20 states are reporting age of vaccinated residents
  • 17 states are reporting gender or sex of vaccinated residents
  • 20 states are reporting vaccinations by county or a similar local jurisdiction
  • 31 states are reporting their vaccination phase (1A, 1B, etc.)
  • 12 states are prominently featuring information on how residents can get vaccinated, such as a registration portal or contact information for local public health departments

More vaccine data news

  • Jurisdictions with new vaccine dashboards or pages include: Arkansas, Arizona, California, Washington D.C., Kansas, Nebraska, and South Carolina.
  • The CDC’s vaccination data are now available for download, via a table beneath the interactive dashboard. The agency updated its state-by-state data every weekday this past week—an improvement from the past two holiday weeks. A time series isn’t yet available, though.
  • Bloomberg’s vaccine tracker now has time series for both individual states and several countries which have begun administering vaccines. The states currently leading the pack for vaccinations per capita in the U.S. are West Virginia, the Dakotas, and Maine.
  • KFF has updated its COVID-19 Vaccination Monitor with polling data on vaccine hesitancy in rural America. Compared to urban and suburban residents, the foundation found, rural residents are significantly more hesitant. 31% of the rural residents sampled said they would “definitely get” a vaccine, compared to over 40% in other categories. Rural residents are also more likely to say they’re “not worried” that they or someone in their family will get sick with COVID-19.
  • NPR’s Selena Simmons-Duffin and Pien Huang surveyed experts to determine several major ways the U.S. could “jump start its sluggish vaccine rollout.” These include: more money for state and local health departments, more vaccine types (hopefully some easier-to-transport brands), massive administration sites, more regular supplies from the federal government, and public awareness campaigns.
  • The Trump administration is speeding up at least one thing: a plan to help pharmacies administer COVID-19 vaccines. According to POLITICO’s Rachel Roubein, almost 40,000 pharmacies are involved in the federal program, including those part of the Costco, Rite Aid, and Walmart chains. Pharmacies which are already used to administering flu vaccines each year—and already have huge patient databases—are strong candidates for the next phase of vaccine rollout.  
  • After some classic infighting from Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, New York state is moving to Phase 1B—meaning seniors and essential workers will start to see vaccinations. However, as City Councilmember Mark Levine pointed out on Twitter, the city has: “One website for H+H sites, another for DOHMH sites, another for Costco. For community clinics, 7 have their own different websites, 4 require calling, and 1 is by email.” (I want to get vaccinated at Costco, personally, if the opportunity arises.)
  • A Twitter thread from KFF Senior Vice President Jen Kates points out more of the methods states and counties are using to get residents signed up for vaccination appointments. They range from the expected online portals to SurveyMonkey and Eventbrite.

Related posts

  • Booster shots exacerbate global vaccine inequity
    At the end of last week’s post on booster shots, I wrote that these additional doses take up airtime in expert discussions and in the media, distracting from discussions of what it will take to vaccinate the world. But these shots do more harm than just taking over the media cycle. When the U.S. and other wealthy nations decide to give many residents third doses, they jump the vaccine supply line again—leaving low-income nations to wait even longer for first doses.
  • Another COVID-19 endgame take
    Trevor Bedford, computational virologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center—and widely regarded expert on coronavirus variants—wrote a useful Twitter thread this week. In the thread, Bedford provides his take on the “COVID-19 endgame.” In other words, what will happen once the virus reaches endemic levels?
  • Unreliable population numbers hinder vaccination rate analysis
    An excellent article in the Financial Times, published this past Monday, illuminates one major challenge of estimating a vaccine campaign’s success: population data are not always reliable. Health reporter Oliver Barnes and data reporter John Burn-Murdoch explain that, in several countries and smaller regions, inaccurate counts of how many people live in the region have led to vaccination rate estimates that make the area’s vaccine campaign look more successful—or less successful—than it really is.
  • Booster shots: What we’ve learned—and what we still don’t know
    This week, the FDA’s vaccine advisory committee had a two-day meeting to discuss booster shots for Moderna’s and Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccines. From the outside, these meetings may have appeared fairly straightforward: the committee voted unanimously to recommend booster shots for both vaccines. But in fact, the discussions on both days were wide-reaching and full of questions, touching on the many continued gaps in our knowledge about the need for additional vaccine doses.

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