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States should look to other states for successful vaccine rollout

States should look to other states for successful vaccine rollout
© Greg Nash

Now that the COVID-19 vaccine is here, the distribution process has proven to be full of new complexities — many of which would remind you of Goldilocks. The first approach was so slow that many people wouldn’t receive the vaccine for a decade. And then, in January, it was announced that the vials previously held back are to be deployed as soon as possible. While this is good news to many of our at-risk or essential personnel, the quick and drastic change left health and hospital officials who were already under pressure exposed to more insurmountable pressure.

Our government is fumbling with the right pace and approach to immunization. States and localities are panicked to meet the new recommendations from big government, and those that increased distribution are already running out of their supply. The problem is simple: an approach to vaccine distribution across all 50 states is not one-size-fits-all. States should follow the lead of other states where vaccination rollout is working.

Once rollout began, communities reported issues due to lack of proper coordination and planning, such as long lines of seniors without appointments, system crashes and sudden reprioritization of those eligible to receive the vaccine. And this entire time, vaccines sat in freezers unused.

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But then U.S. health officials reversed their previous recommendations by freeing up the second doses of the vaccines, and President BidenJoe BidenKlain on Manchin's objection to Neera Tanden: He 'doesn't answer to us at the White House' Senators given no timeline on removal of National Guard, Capitol fence Overnight Defense: New Senate Armed Services chairman talks Pentagon policy nominee, Afghanistan, more | Biden reads report on Khashoggi killing | Austin stresses vaccine safety in new video MORE announced his goal to vaccinate 100 million in 100 days. This sounds great in theory, but the reality is at the current pace the virus will not be contained until 2022, and even now states are days away from running out of their supplies.

Many states are failing due to the chaotic distribution process, like Arizona, which has only vaccinated 1.6 percent of its population. However, a number of states are leading the charge. In West Virginia, 82 percent of doses distributed have been administered. This success is thanks to the Mountain State making a chaotic process simple.

Some states are leaving important rollout decisions left to the under-staffed and over-worked county health officials. No rollout plan looks the same across counties in Arizona, and so no one knows where to find the right information on scheduling or vaccination sites for their community. In Maryland, the Governor also opted for a decentralized response. However, when he widened the pool of eligibility from a population of 533,000 to nearly 2.1 million, he gave his county health officials no advance warning. The lack of communication is hurting the states, whether it be between state decision makers, county officials or the public.

In West Virginia, this was simply avoided by making a statewide uniform process. They took the planning into their own hands from the beginning, and instead tapped their localities for a job where they could really be effective. As the only state to opt out of a federal program to work with national pharmacy chains like Walgreens and CVS, West Virginia instead worked local drugstores into their plan, which took off and soared well before most states began.

As for supply, in Arizona, the state is not receiving enough of a supply and does not have enough people to properly distribute and administer the doses. And in Virginia, hospitals hoarded vials out of fear of when the supply was depleted. Health officials refused vaccinations, leading to cancelled appointments and facility shutdowns.

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Comparatively, West Virginia has leaned on their National Guard to organize the distribution process, and so far, it’s working. Farther south, the University of Florida was one of the first to free up its stadiums as a vaccination site. Since then, several stadiums in multiple states have opened up to their communities as vaccination sites and announced a plan to open more.

No state was guaranteed success in vaccination rollout, and those struggling are not unique. Chaos has ensued, and for a moment it seemed we might never get a grip on our country’s rollout plans. But, across our 50 laboratories of democracy, some things are working. Enough trial and error — and time — has passed, states should feel empowered to look to other states and find the solutions that may work for them, and then adopt them.

West Virginia isn’t leading because its leaders lucked out, but because they took the chance to stray from the prescribed plan. They took a chaotic system and made it simple — and created a process that best fit their state.

Every state is taking a different approach to vaccine distribution. The approaches that have worked include clear communication and delegation. It’s time to take note and implement the best fit approaches in each state, because the status quo isn’t good enough. Too much is at stake, and we have to get this right. We have to get this right.

Lisa B. Nelson is the chief executive officer of the American Legislative Exchange Council, the country’s largest and oldest membership organization of state legislators, who are dedicated to individual liberty and free enterprise. Follow her on twitter @LisabNelson.