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US COVID-19 vaccination program is our 'can do' World War II moment

US COVID-19 vaccination program is our 'can do' World War II moment
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What do a Formula 1 race track in Texas, an unused air strip in Connecticut and a Six Flags America amusement park in Maryland have in common? 

Answer: They all have been converted into mass COVID-19 vaccination sites.

The rollout of the COVID-19 vaccination program has hardly been smooth. Multiple problems still need to be solved, especially vaccinating elderly minorities who have limited ability or resources to make appointments online and get to vaccination sites. 

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But American ingenuity and resourcefulness is starting to produce results, just as it did in World War II after a string of demoralizing defeats in early 1942. American industry mobilized, and soon automobile manufacturers were turning out tanks and bombers, and toy train companies were making compasses for naval ships.  

That kind of improvisation is taking place in the battle against COVID. In just six days in January, the Community Health Center, a nonprofit health care provider in East Hartford, Connecticut, set up a mass vaccination site on an empty, snow-covered Pratt & Whitney runway, which lacked electricity. The center, which didn’t know how it would get paid, brought in trailers, generators, lights and portable toilets, set up a wireless network and hired dozens of nurses. 

The site operates at a fast, efficient pace. People line up on the runway in their cars in 10 parallel rows. (Someone came up with thousands of orange traffic cones.) The National Guard directs the cars down the runway, where nurses give vaccinations, and then directs those cars to a waiting area for monitoring for adverse reactions. The site uses Pfizer vaccines, which have to be kept in an ultra-cold freezer set up at a nearby college football stadium. A golf cart takes batches, which are good for only two hours, from the stadium to the runway. The New York Times ran photographs of the activity at the vaccination site, and they make you proud to be an American.    

Around the country in improbable locations such as malls, amusement parks and sports stadiums, Americans are working hard, improvising and commandeering resources (every worker at the Pratt & Whitney airstrip has a walkie-talkie and an iPad). This is the old American “can do” spirit.

The pandemic has been a dark time filled with death, grief, sacrifice and heroism. News outlets remind us on a daily basis that the United States lost more of its citizens to COVID than any other country. Americans are still dying from COVID, and that is tragic and unacceptable. But we have gone on the offensive thanks to the efforts of people like the nurses and National Guard at the Pratt & Whitney airstrip. The United States leads the rest of the world by a large margin in vaccine doses administered. 

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The new emotion in the COVID pandemic is the relief felt by people after they get vaccinated. It’s expressed with tears, gratitude, joy and even song. Bless Dolly Parton, who got her shot and then, to encourage others to do the same, sang “Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vacciiine, I’m begging of you, please don’t hesitate,” to the tune of her ballad “Jolene.” 

The fight against the COVID-19 pandemic is sometimes compared to a war. It hasn’t been won yet, and the United States has fully vaccinated only about 9 percent of its population. But maybe we are at least at the same point in World War II that  the British were after their victory at El Alamein in North Africa. Winston Churchill ordered church bells to be rung across England for the first time since the beginning of the war and famously said, “This is not the end, it is not even the beginning of the end, but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” If that’s where we are, we have something to celebrate. 

Gregory J. Wallance is a writer in New York City and a federal prosecutor during the Carter and Reagan administrations, where he was a member of the ABSCAM prosecution team that convicted a U.S. senator and six representatives of bribery. He is the author of “America’s Soul in the Balance: The Holocaust, FDR’s State Department, and The Moral Disgrace of an American Aristocracy.” Follow him on Twitter @gregorywallance.