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Why U.S. Lags Behind the U.K. When it Comes to COVID-19 Vaccinations

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Both the U.S. and the U.K. have been in the process of vaccinating their respective populations for over five weeks, but one country seems to be doing better than the other. Technical delays, infrastructure issues, and poor planning have hindered the rollout of the vaccine here in the U.S., while the U.K. continues to ramp up the process.

Here’s where the numbers stand:

With a population of over 330 million, the U.S. has administered just over 15 million doses of the vaccine out of the 31 million that have been distributed, according to the CDC.

With a population of over 66 million, the U.K. has administered 4 million doses, which is more than the total number of people that have tested positive for COVID-19 in the U.K. since the pandemic began, according to the BBC.

In terms of percentages, the U.K. has already vaccinated 6.28% of the general population, while the U.S. is currently hovering around 3.7%.

Even though the U.S. is nearly five times the size of the U.K., we are still lagging compared to our ally across the Atlantic. Let’s find out why.

The U.S. Approach

Both countries have been distributing the vaccines developed by Moderna and Pfizer. Under the Trump Administration, the government had originally reserved half of the first 100 million doses, so that there would be enough supply to make sure everyone could get their second shot of the two-dose vaccine. Officials agreed to release the second half of the supply and have been shipping it out since the end of December. Many states were expecting a rapid uptick in supply, but it appears most of the remaining supplies have already been shipped out.

Demand for the vaccine is slowly rising across the U.S., but some states and facilities are worried that demand could soon exceed supply as more people look to get vaccinated.

The FDA said the first doses should be reserved for frontline healthcare workers, first responders, and nursing home residents, but each state is taking its own approach, leading to an uneven patchwork of distribution across the country.

The Trump Administration let the states decide what was best for their own populations, but some states have fared better than others. The government distributed doses to the states based on population, not positive cases or infection rates. In addition, several states have complained that they were not fully aware of the arrangements and/or requirements. For example, the Pfizer vaccine must be kept at ultra-low temperatures, and some facilities did not have the right equipment to store it.

Some states focused on frontline healthcare workers and those over the age of 80, while other states have been sending shots to teachers, government employees, and those as young as 60, creating confusion in some parts of the country.

Furthermore, technical issues have plagued the distribution process here in the U.S. Many facilities and health networks have asked their employees to sign up for a vaccination appointment online, but these systems continue to crash in some areas. In Los Angeles, home to one of the worst outbreaks in the country, error messages pop up when you try to schedule an appointment online.

The U.S. is in the process of converting sports stadiums, arenas, and other large complexes into mass vaccination centers, which should speed up the process over the next few weeks.

However, many facilities offering the vaccines in the U.S. are only open from 7 AM to 5 PM, making it difficult for some people to get their shot. They may have to take time off work or try to swing by on their lunch hours. Restricted hours have also led to long lines in some areas. In contrast, the U.K. operates vaccination sites around the clock.

Another major problem is that many healthcare workers have been hesitant to get their shots. Many facilities expected to quickly distribute the drug among their employees, but masses of doses have just been sitting unused as administrators look for ways to encourage more people to take the vaccine.

Now that President Biden has taken office, he plans to pump another $20 billion into the country’s vaccination program. His team is hoping to get 100 million people vaccinated within the first 100 days of his administration.

The U.K. Approach

The U.K. is further along in the vaccination process, but it also has a very different healthcare system. Unlike the U.S., the U.K. has a nationalized health system, which has helped the country streamline the rollout of the vaccine. The country’s National Health Service covers all citizens, where the U.S. is made up of thousands of different providers and companies.

During the initial rollout, the U.K. selected 50 hospitals that would be the first to receive the drug. They made sure each facility had the resources to distribute it to patients and staff. Officials also sent out precise instructions in terms of how the drug should be administered and to whom.

The country has been using mass vaccination sites for some time, many of which are open 24/7, so they can vaccinate as many people as possible.

The U.K. hasn’t had to deal with as much skepticism as the U.S. Just 60% of Americans say they plan to get a vaccine, while 72% of Britons say the same.

Thanks to the country’s initial success, the U.K. will start vaccinating those 70 years and older and those with underlying health conditions. It hopes to vaccinate 15 million high-risk individuals by February 15th.

So far, the U.K. has emerged as the gold standard in terms of vaccination.

“We have one consolidated system that functions under a command and control basis, and that’s the ideal way to implement an immunisation programme,” said David Salisbury, former senior official in charge of immunization for the U.K. government. “I don’t think anyone could go much faster than the UK is going unless they had a bigger supply,” he added.

Steven Briggs
Steven Briggs is a healthcare writer for Scrubs Magazine, hailing from Brooklyn, NY. With both of his parents working in the healthcare industry, Steven writes about the various issues and concerns facing the industry today.

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