I was enjoying a party in a crowded hotel room, where people were sitting on the beds and leaning against the furniture, when I suddenly realized that no one — myself included — was wearing a mask.
I woke with a start. It was just a bad dream.
In the wide-awake world, the hosannas that greeted November’s announcements of COVID-19 vaccines gave way to disenchantment, as gilded pronouncements were tarnished by the logistical challenges of getting vaccine into arms. To borrow from political analyst David Axelrod, trouble results “when the details meet the narrative.”
I have been both a player and a spectator in the game of vaccination roulette. Spin the wheel and see where the ball stops. It might be at an indoor stadium or a tent in a parking lot, at a grocery store or (soon) a pharmacy, or at a community health center or private clinic. Or maybe nowhere and you are forced to spin again.
When a grocery chain opened its appointment site at 6 a.m. one recent day, the governor said there was “more demand than you’d see for a Georgia-Alabama SEC championship football game.” And for something far more important, I would add.
Hopefully we hear of nothing in Atlanta similar to what a friend in New York City posted on Facebook: “Last week I was in shock when the executive director of a synagogue bragged to me that he sent the members of his Long Island congregation to [a hospital] in Brooklyn to lineup for the 1,800 or so doses that were earmarked for minorities, for the poor, for elderly people who do not have access to the internet. This gentleman had the gall to tell me over the phone that ‘minorities don’t believe in the vaccine.’ #disgusted”
Too many Americans persist in their rejection of the most basic precautions against a potentially deadly virus, with predictable results. Georgia’s post-holidays spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations receded, but left behind a surge in deaths as a lagging indicator.
When Georgia added people age 65 and older to Tier 1a, I wondered whether there was a sufficient supply of vaccine to handle adding some 1.5 million adults to the highest priority group, which already included health care workers, first responders, and the residents and staff of long-term care facilities. Not even close.
Until supply and demand come into closer proximity, an element of desperation will remain. I have friends who drove from metro Atlanta to near the Alabama border when their daughter found them appointments. The brother of another friend drove their 91-year-old father, who lives independently, to the northeast corner of Georgia because they could not make arrangements closer to home.
I live in DeKalb County, which I name not to criticize, but to praise for responding quickly when informed that its computer system had sent appointment confirmations to people who then were turned away because their names were absent from an on-site master list. The county also fixed social media messaging that impugned people who, in good faith, had followed the instructions they received to secure those appointments.
About a week after this column is published, I am scheduled to be jabbed in my upper left arm with a second dose of the Moderna vaccine. Even then, I will wear a mask and take care of where I go, because that remains the prudent thing to do.
No one wants to find themselves patching a roof during a storm, but in essence that’s what the nation did for a year. The COVID-19 pandemic laid bare the human cost of failing to maintain a robust public health infrastructure. Public health departments often are underfunded, understaffed, and taxed by the myriad of services they are tasked to provide. Georgia’s legislature has shown a willingness to put more skin (read: taxpayer dollars) in the game, even as the governor’s budget proposal relied heavily on federal funds.
The COVID-19 response last year left much to be desired. To reset the narrative, the new administration in Washington has increased the states’ weekly vaccine allotments and improved federal-state coordination, announced plans to add 200 million doses to the 400 million purchased by its predecessor, and deployed FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) to bolster the effort. What’s at stake is not only public health but restoring public confidence in the role of government as protector of its citizenry.