The COVID Vaccine is Here; What Now?
Avital Uram and Shira Dorff
The COVID-19 vaccine has been the bright light at the end of a dark tunnel for the past year. Now that it is here, countries must find the best way to distribute the vaccine effectively. They have come up with different strategies, but which is doing the best job? We looked at three potential winners -- Israel, United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Bahrain -- and compared their policies to that of the United States.
So far, Israel seems to be doing the best in distributing vaccines to its population. While that may be because it has a smaller population than other countries, some of the strategies used in Israel could be effective elsewhere. One thing that has helped it distribute vaccines is that Israel has universal healthcare. When people receive their paychecks, some of the money goes to the government as a national health insurance contribution. The government uses it to pay for the four plans under its broader healthcare system: Clalit, Leumit, Maccabi and Meuhedet. No matter what age you are, or what pre-existing conditions you may have, you can still choose any of the plans. Because of these health plans, Israel can easily keep track of who received the vaccine, how they reacted, and whether the vaccine was effective. It agreed to share this information anonymously with the Pfizer company in return for being able to purchase enough vaccines for its population. Another reason why Israel has been able to vaccinate more of its population is because of its policy on extra doses. Israel has discovered how to get more out of each vial of COVID-19 vaccine. Each vial contains about five doses, but Israel has been getting as many as six or seven because, after vaccinating people with appointments, doctors offer the leftover vaccines to anybody who wants them. This is an efficient way to vaccinate more people while the vaccines are still viable. Most COVID vaccines need to be stored in very cold temperatures. The Pfizer vaccine, for example, needs to be stored at -94 degrees Fahrenheit. If it is removed from its cold environment, the vaccine is only viable for five to six hours before it must be thrown away. Israel’s solution is efficient and intelligent.
However, it’s not only Israel that has been doing a good job at distributing vaccines. Despite a recent surge of cases, the United Arab Emirates has been distributing vaccines, and plans to have half of its population vaccinated by the end of March. This places the UAE with the second-fastest vaccination campaign in the world after Israel. In the UAE, there are many government-run clinics that offer free vaccines. The country has worked hard to get everyone at high risk or over the age of 60 vaccinated and is using several types of vaccines: Pfizer BioNTech for high-risk people and the Sinopharm vaccine for the general population. Once the UAE has vaccinated the most at-risk patients, it hopes to start distributing the Pfizer vaccine to the general population.
Bahrain has also distributed vaccines successfully. It was the first country to allow citizens to set up appointments using an application that was originally created for contact tracing. With the app, people can select whether they want the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine or the Sinopharm vaccine. If citizens don't want to use the app, they can set up appointments via Bahrain’s Ministry of Health website. Bahrain is ahead in vaccine rollout, having started inoculating frontline workers in November and the general public in December.
While Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain have all been doing well with distributing the COVID vaccine, the United States is having a challenging time. It turns out that the United States has a limited number of vaccine doses. CDC.gov has said, “The goal is for everyone to be able to easily get vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as large enough quantities [of the vaccine] are available.” However, as of the beginning of March, large enough quantities were not available in the United States. Therefore, officials created a special list of who will be getting the vaccine and when. There are four phases: Senior citizens, doctors, and healthcare professionals are some of those in phase 1A. Among those in Phase 1B are first responders, agricultural workers, U.S Postal Service workers, and people at risk. Those in Phases 1C and Phase 2 may not get the vaccine for a while. If the rollout had been organized differently, distribution might have happened more quickly. Vaccine rollout was going particularly slowly when Donald Trump was president. Some argue that although the former Commander-in-Chief initiated Operation Warp Speed to encourage the development of the vaccines, he didn’t make a similar effort to purchase and distribute the vaccines once they were developed. Instead of leading with information, he is accused by some of using the vaccine as a tool for the election by leaving questions of vaccine efficacy and virus harm in the air. Also, the U.S. does not have a universal healthcare system like Israel which makes the rollout exceedingly difficult.. Helene Gayle, head of the Chicago Community Trust and a veteran of the CDC, has said, “The countries that have done the best at trying to beat Covid-19 have been the ones that in general have good public-health infrastructures—and we [in the United States] just don’t.”
Ultimately, some countries, like Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain, were just more prepared and better equipped for distributing vaccines than others. However, every country has been trying its best to get its population vaccinated, no matter how long it takes. Someday, everyone, regardless of national identity, will be vaccinated -- it just may take longer than everyone hoped.