Vaccines will be one of our most important tools in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, and early indicators give us cause for hope.
Vaccines licensed for use in the United States have exceptionally high rates of effectiveness. They have also been shown to be highly effective in preventing serious illnesses that result in hospitalizations or death due to COVID-19.
“This is the light at the end of the tunnel that we were all waiting for. If a significant number of people in our community are vaccinated, it really offers the opportunity to slow the spread of the disease, decrease the way that sick people are infected and decrease the death rate from COVID-19, “he said. Stephen Hippler, physician, OSF HealthCare clinical director.
But giving vaccines to large numbers of people presents a new set of challenges.
The demand for vaccines against the virus that causes COVID-19 far exceeds supply. And while public health agencies and health systems like OSF are doing everything they can to make vaccines available in their communities, they face a daunting task to achieve this goal.
We hope that most Americans will have a chance to get vaccinated this year, but many of us will have to wait weeks or months for a chance to get vaccinated. Until then, Dr. Hippler and others urge you to be patient and continue to follow public health guidelines to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Federal, state and local rules
The distribution of COVID-19 vaccines is unique because different levels of government have different responsibilities.
The federal government bought the vaccines from the manufacturers, Pfizer and Moderna. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also published guidance at the national level who is most at risk and should be prioritized in vaccination plans.
The federal government sends a certain amount of vaccine to each state, which is responsible for deciding where, how, and to whom the vaccines should go. This includes detailed plans for who is eligible to receive vaccines during each distribution phase.
The state then delivers vaccines to local health departments for use in individual counties and communities.
Due to this system, vaccine availability varies from state to state and county to county.
Supply vs demand
But even with a detailed plan for this phased approach, each phase includes tens of thousands of people in every state. And due to vaccine storage requirements, hospitals and health departments cannot keep large stockpiles on hand.
“The amount of vaccine that we are receiving is very small compared to the number of patients in our communities. The supplies we have received are not enough to vaccinate even 3-4% of our eligible patients, ”said Dr. Hippler said.
“This is a huge group of patients, for whom there are simply not enough vaccines available today.”
That doesn’t mean that those people won’t get a vaccine, it just means that not everyone can get one right away.
While the goal is to offer a COVID-19 vaccine to all who are eligible as soon as possible, we also know that this is a long process that will require patience for those who are not included in the early phases.
“On the one hand, you may have to wait, but on the other hand, be thankful that we live in the United States and have the opportunity to get vaccinated this year. It won’t be as soon as everyone wants it, but it gets closer, ”said Dr. Hippler said.
All states, including Illinois and Michigan, have begun vaccinating their residents. OSF HealthCare began vaccinating its workforce in December 2020 and offering vaccinations to patients in January 2021, following guidelines from state and federal public health agencies on who to vaccinate first.
“We have heard constantly, all the time, that this will take time and that the national strategy is to give it to those most at risk first,” said Dr. Hippler said.
That includes those who are most at risk of being exposed while on the job, such as healthcare workers and other essential workers, as well as those who are at the highest risk of hospitalization or death from COVID-19 based on medical risk factors.
One of the biggest risk factors for complications from COVID-19 is age, which is why people 65 and older are among the first to receive the vaccine.
But that limited age group includes nearly 50 million Americans. Even among those in this priority group, the vaccine cannot be offered to everyone right away. Some will have to wait longer than others.
OSF HealthCare is as follows Recommendations based on CDC prioritize patients with certain medical conditions that put them at higher risk. This includes:
Those with multiple-risk conditions are among the first patients OSF targets.
A way forward
“If you think about how the vaccine has been implemented, everything has been to prevent deaths and overwhelm our health care systems,” said Dr. Hippler said.
By reducing those threats, we can begin to return to more normal activities, although precautions such as wearing a mask and physical distancing will remain extremely important.
As the vaccine supply increases, the vaccine will be available to more and more people, as well as in more places.
In the early stages of vaccination, local health departments and select health systems, such as OSF, are offering vaccines to those in priority groups, including health workers, long-term care residents, those who They are 65 or older and essential workers, such as those who work in dental offices and grocery stores. Over time, vaccines will be available to more people and in more locations, including retail pharmacies.
Dr. Hippler urges those interested in receiving a vaccine to pay close attention to what their local health department is doing so they can see all the options available to them.
“The hope is that as more people get vaccinated, the cases of COVID-19 in our communities will start to decline. We can start to open up our communities and businesses a little more, but still with the protections in place, just to be safe until we know for sure the effects of the vaccine on transmission, ”said Dr. Hippler said.