The other day Lynn and I were almost smashed into in a parking lot here in town. If you live here, or lived here, or ever have visited here, you know which parking lot is the worst one in town, but instead of being on the City Market side we were to the south, approaching Palisades restaurant.
The oblivious driver, who was on her way to the restaurant, turned out, just as I was rolling down my window ready to deliver a scathing remark, to be my sister’s mother-in-law, a woman we are all rather fond of.
Sharon was quite focused, doing that huge favor of helping a friend move, a friend who didn’t do an ounce of pre-packing and has to be out of a three-story house into a much smaller single-story this week. Sharon was her way to pick up lunch (at least her friend was buying) for the two of them.
The homily for the day, then, ought to be that when you become infuriated by the actions of a driver, but then temper your response because you realize you know that driver, well, perhaps the world would be a better place if we treated all drivers as if they were our friends. If I’m not willing to chew out Sharon for nearly running us over, why am I so quick to do so just because it’s a stranger, someone who could easily be just as stressed as Sharon?
But this is less about that homily, which is a darn good one and in a different era could rate an entire sermon (perhaps already done: “Do unto others”), than where the conversation went next: Sharon’s vaccination, or lack thereof.
Sharon is over 70, with some health issues, and she would like to be vaccinated against covid. Wouldn’t we all? But she’s in that top tier that’s supposed to be receiving theirs even as I type. The 20 million who were promised their vaccine by Dec. 31, 2020.
Only about 10 percent of that promise was met, and I read one health expert who was doing math who said at this rate, it will take 10 years to vaccinate all Americans. Just this morning CBS reported 9 million Americans have now been vaccinated. I heard last week that South Dakota, with arguably the worst disease response, was leading states in getting their vaccine supply into actual arms. The catch, though, was that South Dakota had deployed 50 percent of its allotment of vaccines. And that was the best of any state.
But then it turned out that what states have been allocated may not actually have reached their borders yet. It’s very difficult, with a dissembling national administration focused on churning falsehoods into “alternate facts” rather than addressing a legitimate and overwhelming national health crisis, to know where the bottlenecks are, but it is clear that the national level is currently washing its hands of any notion of distribution.
That will change next week, if we ever get there, although the incoming task force appears somewhat distressed at the new president’s probable overpromise of 100 million vaccines in American shoulders in 100 days. But in the meantime the task of vaccine distribution has fallen to each state and beyond that, each local public health entity.
Public health is one of those departments that has been notoriously underfunded nearly universally, an insurance policy that is a waste of money — up until the moment you need it. And now we’ve needed it for going on a year, and in many places the public health officer has not been backed up by local or state officials, and many have quit or, egregiously, been fired.
These departments have been tasked with issuing health orders, testing for the virus, contact tracing, quarantining . . . I don’t know about other counties, but our public health has further dedicated itself to twice-weekly updates via the internet, including a weekly broadcast with Q&A from the general public. I keep hearing that ours is one of the few counties to still be making an effort at contact tracing, and I also heard (but didn’t verify) that a neighboring county has completely given up public health testing for the virus. If you want a test, you have to make an appointment with a primary care provider and pay for said appointment.
On top of this, these offices have to come up with a vaccine distribution process. As our public health officer noted last week in the broadcast “town hall,” they never know when the state is going to send more vaccine and how much will be sent, making planning even more difficult. On the plus side, our county’s supply is all going into people, and they are maximizing doses, using every last bit in every last vial. So far, 5 percent of our county population has been dosed at least once.
But when our governor’s office blithely comes out with an announcement, like yesterday’s, that everyone over the age of 70 should be vaccinated as soon as possible, people erupt. It isn’t for lack of want on many people’s part, or effort.
Sharon, for instance, said she’s filled out our county’s “vaccine interest form” four times. She has tried going through her local primary care office. She has tried going through her out-of-county specialist.
She’s hardly alone. We have other friends, one in a similar situation healthwise, who have filled out the form and called doctors. Over in Arvada, a much larger place, my parents have called their doctors’ office, spending hours on hold. They have called area pharmacies. They called their public health office, only to be told that it isn’t vaccinating people over 70. Say what?
I don’t know what to do about, or for, my own parents, but at least one set of local friends, and hopefully Sharon, got some welcome news yesterday: Gunnison is getting 420 doses of Moderna vaccine and will be vaccinating a few health care providers but mostly seniors 70-plus on Wednesday. They are taking people at random from those who filled out their vaccine interest form.
I don’t know where that puts our senior living facilities. Walgreens came over, without much advance notice, and vaccinated nearly every resident of our care facilities last Wednesday, but we do have at least two apartment complexes for seniors only. And I don’t know what, if any, provision has been made for seniors who haven’t filled out the vaccine interest form.
Some national columnist I read awhile back said we were making this far more complicated than it needed to be. Just put out an announcement of a vaccine drive for people 70-plus, and check IDs. Or don’t even do that: if someone looks like they’re 70, or close, just send them on through.
We do have a couple of friends who have already received their vaccines, one of whom reported the process to be extremely well-organized and efficient. The county did take a moment to boast that they can vaccinate 100 people an hour. The next-best rate (I didn’t know there was a competition) they found statewide was 88 people per hour.
I am going to hope that next week, on Jan. 20 at 12:01 p.m., a new and vastly improved vaccine task force does not roll out a plan announcement but instead puts an actual plan in motion. Maybe 100 million in 100 days is an overly ambitious goal, but hopefully it won’t be for lack of trying, as it is now.
Because that’s what we all could use, right about now: a shot in the arm.