Well-Being Longevity

Chaotic vaccine rollout could cause hundreds of thousands of US COVID-19 deaths

Doctor in protective suit inject vaccine shot to patient illustration

Story at a glance

  • New coronavirus cases are surging and experts fear it will only get worse after holiday travel.
  • Public health experts warn that if additional vaccines are not distributed quickly, many more Americans are projected to die.
  • Meanwhile, health care workers and others are criticizing the federal government’s rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Surgeon General Jerome Adams clarified on CNN that the federal government did keep its promise to distribute 20 million vaccines by the end of 2020, even if they haven’t reached individual Americans. 

“The projections we were putting out were based on what we could control at the federal level. We did deliver on 20 million doses delivered. You’re always going to have more doses allocated versus delivered. Delivered versus shots in arms,” Adams told CNN, noting that local health care systems are currently overwhelmed by a surge in cases and hospitalizations. “I want everyone to know that over the next week or two is when we should be paying attention closely and making sure we continue to see this ramp up. And I expect that it will.”


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Nearly a month after the Food and Drug Administration granted an emergency use authorization for two COVID-19 vaccines, more than 4.2 million initial doses have been administered (each individual requires two doses). But front line workers are criticizing the rollout, which has been rocky. An NBC analysis found that at the current pace, it would take almost 10 years to vaccinate enough Americans against COVID-19 to get the pandemic under control.

“Basically, the federal government is botching the vaccine rollout,” Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s school of public health, told the Guardian. “They thought their job ends when the vaccine arrives in the states, and there’s really no well-delineated plan.”  

In the last few days of 2020, record numbers of Americans died of the coronavirus. Jha and other experts told the Guardian that hundreds of thousands more deaths are possible if something doesn’t change.


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“I want people to know the projections are pretty scary, but they are projections. What we do now matters. If you gathered over the holidays outside of your household without a mask, there are still measures you can take right now,” Adams told CNN. “You still can self-quarantine. You can still get tested knowing that greater than 50% of the spread now among people who are asymptomatic. You can still wear a mask and wash your hands and watch your distance. If we do that we will be able to temper this surge.”

That message didn’t seem to have reached the millions of Americans who traveled through airports this holiday season, raising fears of yet another surge in infections.

“I think people need to be very aware that it’s not just about the deaths, as we talked about earlier,” Adams told CNN. “It’s about the hospitalizations, the capacity. These cases are having an impact in an array of ways and people need to understand there’s a finish line in sight, but we’ve got to keep running toward it.”


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