Sen. Mitt Romney added his voice Friday to the chorus of critics over the slowness and inefficiency of the nation’s COVID-19 vaccination effort, warning “hundreds of thousands of lives are at stake.”
The fact that the federal government hasn’t rolled out a comprehensive vaccination plan for the states to model “is as incomprehensible as it is inexcusable,” the Utah Republican said in a statement on New Year’s Day.
The current program “is woefully behind despite the fact that it encompasses the two easiest populations to vaccinate: frontline workers and long-term care residents,” he said. “Unless new strategies and plans are undertaken, the deadly delays may be compounded as broader and more complex populations are added.”
According to The Washington Post, the Trump administration “fell vastly short of its goal of delivering an initial shot to 20 million people by the end of December.”
Citing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The Post reported that “on the final day of a bleak year, only about 2.8 million people had received the shot ... the first of two doses needed to provide immunity to the virus.”
Across the country, the story said, “states and health-care providers continued to grapple with unpredictable timelines for when new vaccine shipments would arrive and in what quantities.” Public health departments, meanwhile, struggled to muster the resources needed for the effort.
Utah, too, has seen a slower vaccination rollout than officials had hoped, but they say is it speeding up.
From Dec. 15, when the first doses were administered at University of Utah Hospital and LDS Hospital, through the Christmas weekend, a total of 17,543 doses of the vaccine were administered in Utah — almost all to front-line health care workers.
On Monday and Tuesday, the Utah Department of Health reported that 6,427 doses of the vaccine were given — an average of 3,214 per day. On Thursday alone, it administered 6,230 new doses of the vaccine, which the agency said has “brought hope of brighter days ahead.”
Gov.-elect Spencer Cox said Friday the state’s vaccination program is speeding up even more than reflected in the official report, tweeting that an “internal report” at noon Thursday “showed 9,244 doses administered in the previous 24 hours. That’s a huge increase from 5,838 the day before (and 2,873 before that).”
He thanked the state and local health officials “who are working hard to increase vaccine distribution.”
The state’s COVID response team also tweeted out reassurances that the vaccines are safe and that mild side effects are normal.
“They mean the vaccine is working. We know it’s a little unnerving to have a vaccine produced this quickly, but let us reassure you, the COVID vaccine is safe and effective.”
The state health department also reminded Utahns that until everyone is vaccinated, people need “to continue to make small sacrifices now. Wear a mask that covers your nose and mouth anytime you are in public or around someone you don’t live with. Physical distance as much as possible.”
For his part, President Donald Trump has blamed states for the slow rollout of the vaccine. Asserting that the federal government has kept up with its promises of distribution, he urged states to “get moving!”
Romney said it is the federal government’s responsibility “to acknowledge reality and develop a plan — particularly when hundreds of thousands of lives are at stake.”
Drawing on his work with organizing the 2002 Winter Olympics, Romney proposed “calling on those who have carried out widespread vaccination programs elsewhere or in the past” to “learn from their experience.”
Next, the Republican senator proposed enlisting “every medical professional, retired or active, who is not currently engaged in the delivery of care. This could include veterinarians, combat medics and corpsmen, medical students, EMS professionals, first responders, and many others who could be easily trained to administer vaccines.”
States would not need to worry about the cost, he said, since “Congress has already appropriated funding for states so that these professionals can be fully compensated.”
Third, he suggested establishing “vaccination sites throughout the states, perhaps in every school. Make sure that a medical professional is in each school building to be able to respond to a reaction that might occur.”
Organizers could, Romney said, “schedule vaccinations according to a person’s priority category and birthdate: e.g., people in group A with a January first birthday would be assigned a specific day to receive their vaccination.”
The senator acknowledged that there might be flaws in his proposals so he invited public health professionals “to point out the errors in this plan — so they should develop better alternatives based on experience, modeling and trial.”
The task is urgent, Romney said. “We are already behind; urgent action now can help us catch up.”