Overnight Health Care: Testing capacity strained as localities struggle with vaccine staffing | Health workers refusing vaccine is growing problem | Incoming CDC director expects 500,000 COVID deaths by mid-February
Welcome to Monday’s Overnight Health Care. With just two days to go until Joe Biden is sworn in as president, his incoming CDC director is painting a grim picture of the coronavirus situation in the short term. Vaccines offer a light at the end of the tunnel, but localities are struggling to find enough resources for the massive effort, and are contending with resistance even from some health care workers.
Let’s start on the vaccine campaign.
COVID-19 testing capacity strained as localities struggle with vaccine staffing
It’s not just that local health departments are struggling to ramp up a massive vaccination campaign. The effort also threatens to cut away at another priority in the fight against coronavirus: testing.
Health officials across the country are facing tough decisions on whether to close testing sites or cut back on hours because they don’t have enough funding or staff to administer both vaccinations and testing.
- In Stamford, Conn., Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said he had spoken with health officials who “don’t have enough money right now to be able to both keep up their testing and distribute vaccine, so they’re going to have to make a choice.”
- Los Angeles closed its large testing site at Dodger Stadium, converting it instead into a vaccination site. The city acknowledged the move would “temporarily reduce testing capacity in L.A. County,” but on the other hand would “more than triple the number of daily vaccines available to be dispersed to Angelenos.”
- Collier County, Florida, closed most of its testing sites to make way for vaccine distribution, the local NBC affiliate reported. Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has directed the state to find testing sites that can be shifted to vaccination locations.
“I’m hearing that every place in the country,” Nicole Lurie, a former assistant secretary of Health and Human Services and an adviser to President-elect Joe Biden‘s team, said on a call with reporters. “There’s just not enough personnel, enough bandwidth [to do both].”
The big picture: The tensions illustrate how local health departments that have long raised the alarm about funding shortages are now scrambling to secure resources for multiple monumental tasks against the pandemic at the same time.
Another problem in the vaccine rollout: Some health workers don’t want the vaccine
Scores of health care workers are still declining to take the COVID-19 vaccine, presenting problems to the pandemic response by sending the wrong message to the public and risking staff shortages if workers become sick.
It’s all happening as a more contagious variant of the virus begins spreading in the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Friday warned this strain could be the dominant one hitting the United States by March.
While there is no national data showing the number of health workers who have declined to be vaccinated, governors, public health officials and health care executives have sounded the alarm on what appears to be a higher than expected refusal rate.
In New York state, more than 40 percent of health workers, who are first in line to get the shot because of their importance to the COVID-19 response, have yet to be vaccinated. It’s not clear how many had actually declined the vaccine, versus not being offered it yet. But the percentage of workers who declined a vaccine in different regions of the state ranges from 12 percent to 29 percent, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.
“This is troubling to say the least,” Cuomo told reporters Friday.
Sobering numbers: Incoming CDC director expects 500,000 coronavirus deaths by mid-February
The incoming Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director said Sunday that she expects the U.S. will reach 500,000 COVID-19 deaths by mid-February.
Rochelle Walensky, President-elect Joe Biden’s named CDC director, told CBS News’ “Face The Nation” that she “unfortunately” agrees with outgoing CDC Director Robert Redfield that the pandemic is going to get worse.
She noted the U.S. has reached nearly 4,000 deaths a day and almost 400,000 coronavirus deaths total.
“By the middle of February we expect half a million deaths in this country,” she said.
Something to watch for: More CDC briefings. After “Face The Nation” moderator Margaret Brennan asked Walensky how often she will hold briefings, the incoming director said she will “brief as often as I can” and “as often as new information comes.”
“When there are new things to report, you will hear from somebody at the CDC and it may very well be me,” she said.
WHO head blasts vaccine inequalities, hits drugmakers over profits
The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) condemned what he called inequity in global vaccine distribution during the international group’s executive board meeting on Monday.
The Associated Press reports WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus bemoaned that one poorer country, identified by a WHO spokesperson as Guinea, had only received 25 coronavirus vaccines doses thus far while almost 50 wealthier nations had already administered around 40 million doses.
“Just 25 doses have been given in one lowest income country — not 25 million, not 25,000 — just 25. I need to be blunt: The world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure,” said Tedros.
“It’s right that all governments want to prioritize vaccinating their own health workers and older people first. But it’s not right that younger, healthier adults in rich countries are vaccinated before health workers and older people in poorer countries. There will be enough vaccine for everyone,” he added.
Biden inherits big challenges from Trump on COVID-19 vaccines
President-elect Joe Biden and his team are walking a tightrope with their coronavirus vaccine plan, rolling out an ambitious strategy while also tempering expectations as to how quickly it can be enacted.
Biden’s plan, officially announced Friday, is a sweeping proposal aimed at dramatically increasing the federal involvement in the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines.
Biden has pledged to vaccinate 100 million people in his first 100 days in office, and wants the National Guard and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help by building clinics and helping to administer shots.
Biden on Friday said that by the end of his first month in office, there will be 100 federally supported centers across the nation.
A big question: What is not clear is how Biden will increase the availability of actual vaccines, which remain a fixed and limited quantity.
Biden acknowledged that nothing will change overnight, and his inauguration alone won’t solve the crisis.
What we’re reading
Another coronavirus variant linked to growing share of cases, several large outbreaks, in California (Washington Post)
More than 40,000 in Florida overdue for 2nd dose of coronavirus vaccine (WFLA)
Acceptance of COVID-19 vaccine is rising, but so is pessimism about getting back to normal (USA Today)
State by state
Data Scientist Rebekah Jones, Facing Arrest, Turns Herself In To Florida Authorities (NPR)
Minnesota to launch COVID-19 vaccine sites for teachers, child care workers, seniors (Fox 9)
In Minnesota, a G.O.P. Lawmaker’s Death Brings Home the Reality of Covid (New York Times)
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