Our View: It’s complicated

Our View: It’s complicated
A vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. (Photo/Cody Mello-Klein)

Approximately 1.1 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine were administered in the United States each day in the week leading up to Jan. 26, the New York Times reported based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This means that the ambitious goal of 1 million doses per day that President Joe Biden promised on the campaign trail last fall was actually already being met the day he took the oath of office. It also means that the federal government under departing President Donald Trump was not devoid of planning for vaccine distribution, as some have claimed.

Let’s follow Biden’s call to unify, particularly around the vaccine’s rollout, and stop the finger pointing. There are many hurdles to overcome, not least of which is competing priorities as people across not just Alexandria but the entire U.S. grow increasingly frustrated with not being able to get the vaccine as fast as they had hoped.

Stepping back and viewing the situation with a wide lens, the progress to date is nothing short of miraculous. Less than 12 months after the first diagnosed cases of COVID-19 appeared in the U.S., entirely new vaccines have been developed, tested for efficacy and safety and manufactured, and they are already being distributed in large quantities.

The Alexandria Health Department says more than 20,000 eligible residents and workers have registered for the vaccine, while the Virginia Department of Health’s website says that, as of Wednesday, 9,473 doses had been administered in Alexandria.

If your glass is half empty, that’s an unacceptably low number, as more than 11,000 eligible city residents in groups 1a and 1b – small subsets of the overall population – have still not been vaccinated, and many haven’t even had their appointments scheduled. Also worrisome is the fact that just 905 of those initial vaccine recipients have received second doses and thus should be fully protected.

Those taking a more optimistic view would say that 46% of Alexandrians currently eligible and registered have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and the reason second doses lag behind is that a gap of three to four weeks is required before second doses can be administered. About 6% of Alexandria’s population of roughly 160,000 has been vaccinated with another 7% likely to receive it in the next month or so. That’s not bad.

Nor do most people begrudge those who are receiving priority in being inoculated against the coronavirus: Group 1a included front-line medical workers and those living and working in long term care facilities. Group 1b is much larger, but our oldest and sickest residents – first those age 75 and up, then those age 65 and up and then those 16 to 64 with pre-existing conditions – are in this group, along with essential frontline workers such as fire and police officers and teachers.

Yes, there are points of contention with-in these groups. Some might challenge why “smoking” is listed as a pre-existing condition that allows someone to be vaccinated in group 1b, since smoking is a choice.

There is also rumbling around the city about the fact that teachers are in a priority group for vaccinations without any requirement in place for them to return to the classroom once vaccinated.

Since science, the CDC and the Virginia state government all say being in school is safe so long as precautions, including mask wearing, distancing as small as three feet between desks and proper sanitizing, are taken, teacher vaccinations would seem to be the final hurdle to a return to school.

But like many facets of the new coronavirus, this is more complicated than it seems at face value: Because the COVID-19 vaccines don’t yet have full FDA approval, the school system can’t legally require teachers to get it. And federal privacy laws prohibit asking employees about non-mandated medical issues.

We think there are ways around this because school personnel had to identify themselves as such when they registered for the vaccine. The AHD should be able to provide numbers, not names, of school personnel who have received the first and second shots. ACPS administrators can then track those numbers to calculate what percentage of school employees have been vaccinated.

While we are stuck inside on short and dreary days and we are all bone-tired of this abominable pandemic, it’s important to remember that smart, caring people have been and continue to work hard at the federal, state and local levels to end this pandemic.

We’re all in this together.