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AMU APU Diseases Infectious Diseases

How Can We Improve the Speed of Mass COVID-19 Vaccinations?

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As we enter the first phases of COVID-19 vaccinations, drug manufacturers state that their output of the vaccine will be increased significantly. President Biden has also announced that there will be a limited number of military units in California to help speed up the vaccination process.

However, we continue to see drugstores and local health departments being tasked with COVID-19 vaccinations. But assigning the mammoth task of ensuring local residents get their shots to drugstores and local health departments is likely to be a failure in the long term, for several reasons.

Limitations in the Current Plan for Vaccinations

Local health departments do a great job of providing expertise in community-related health issues related to the community. However, local health departments lack three key aspects needed to rapidly deploy vaccinations on a large scale.

The first drawback is the lack of command and control planning needed to coordinate vaccinations. At first, it may not seem that complicated to stick a needle in someone’s arm and fill out some paperwork to document the shot.

However, when you consider conducting this operation on a large scale, it can be likened to a Saturday at the Division of Motor Vehicles. Action will happen eventually, but it is not going to happen fast.

Since a process like COVID-19 vaccinations has multiple steps and will be replicated at a large scale, command and control elements are needed. There should be proper planning, proper logistical support, financial support and most importantly, coordinated and well-staffed operations.

The second drawback is insufficient and qualified personnel. If you check the rosters of most of your local health departments, you are likely to find 10 or fewer people.

To effectively and quickly vaccinate a community twice, the number of personnel should be in the 100s. That number of people would ensure that residents have transportation to vaccination sites and would allow multiple vaccination sites to be created simultaneously.

In essence, there are three groups of people in the community who must be accounted for. The first group consists of professionals who have transportation, can often write their own schedule and need little accommodation to ensure they can get their shots.

The second group of people is hourly workers. This group is limited by their work schedules, which often have little flexibility. As a result, they may require nighttime or weekend appointments for vaccinations.

The third is the segment of a population who does not have the necessary transportation or other means to get to a vaccination clinic. For example, someone with a physical disability or who is bedridden may not be able to drive to a vaccination site, so transportation will need to be arranged to get the vaccine to them.

The third drawback to having drugstores and local health departments handle mass COVID-19 vaccinations is logistical support. To increase the number of people receiving their vaccinations and prevent the further spread of COVID-19, logistical design and support will be of the utmost importance.

Anyone who knows large-scale operations understands that amateurs think in terms of operations. However, experts think in terms of logistics, knowing that an operation only works as well as its logistical support.

A proper logistical network for COVID-19 vaccine distribution will involve supply chain management that starts at drug manufacturers and ends at vaccination sites. This network will also involve the medical supplies needed to administer the vaccination and most importantly, logistical support that can process paperwork in an efficient, timely manner.

Better Options for COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution

One possible option that comes to mind for improving vaccine distribution is military forces such as the National Guard. Many of their personnel could be trained to administer a shot. They also have command and control elements and are experts in logistics.

While the use of military forces may scare people receiving the vaccinations a bit, military forces are normally used to help communities recover from disasters. They could help to ensure that vaccinations occur faster and more efficiently.

If communities are too scared to utilize military forces (some fear the military presence), then partnering a local fire department with a local emergency management agency (EMA) could be the next best option. Local EMAs have many connections and are often the center of logistical support during disasters.

Similarly, fire departments have many emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and paramedics in most communities, and they are accustomed to creating command and control structures to meet specific objectives. However, fire departments would need to work overtime, since some of their personnel would need to remain available to the community to put out fires and handle other 911 calls. In addition, local governments would need to pay these firefighters until reimbursements arrived from the federal government.

Vaccination Speed and Efficiency Is Key to Eliminating COVID-19

Vaccination speed and efficiency will be the key to COVID-19 recovery. We must find workable solutions now in order to be ready for the massive number of vaccinations that will be needed for general population groups.

Associate Professor, Emergency and Disaster Management American Public University System

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