What will it take to vaccinate 50% of the population?

Half of the U.S. population is about 165 million people.

  • Let’s say vaccinations are widely available starting on February 1st.
  • Let’s further say that our goal is to vaccinate half of the U.S. population in six months (that certainly ought to be a goal). That’s about 180 days.
  • That is 917,000 vaccinations given every day, seven days per week, for 180 days.
  • Many, or even most vaccines, may require two-doses spaced over time – that means the U.S. will need to administer between 1 and 2 million doses every single day for six months.

Considering the country is averaging almost 1 million Covid-19 tests per day, that level of vaccination is achievable – but only if public health is planning hard to engage in an aggressive rollout.

Searching online I found university student health centers that have provided about 1,000 influenza vaccinations per day. There have also been some walk up/drive by influenza vaccination clinics that have delivered 1,000 influenza vaccinations per day. Thus, it is possible to deliver large numbers of vaccinations with small teams.

To deliver Covid-19 vaccinations rapidly will require a planned and well coordinated delivery mechanism using all available tools. Public and private walk up/drive up vaccination clinics, pharmacies, doctor’s offices, hospital vaccination clinics, public health clinics, etc. – even student interns in nursing programs and pharmacy programs.

As a child, I was taken to a walk in vaccination clinic at what would become my elementary school. There, I know that I received the “sugar cube” Polio vaccine, and the injector gun smallpox vaccination, and was tested for TB. I do not believe I received other vaccinations since, as a child, I had measles, mumps and chicken pox infections. The concept of a public vaccination clinic is an old one and is very do-able.

Public health has not come across as competent during 2020 – go back to the CDC’s botched and contaminated tests, then the CDC’s prohibiting private sector Covid-19 tests while the CDC was unable to deliver sufficient test capacity. Then the face mask debacle. Then the releasing of state-level data on the scope of the pandemic. (In my state, public health spent a month suggesting they could not release any data.)

My state had a pandemic response plan that spent 20 pages describing the state’s org chart and then said “shut everything down” – the lock down. The next logical steps – like how to deliver logistics when everything is shut down, how to handle closed schools or 40 million people out of work – were never defined because they never wrote a real plan. There was no consideration given to the excess deaths and health problems created by locking down. (I unknowingly had a broken foot and torn tendon, for which I had to wait two months to get diagnosed because of our state’s unnecessary shut down of all non-emergency health care). No real planning had been undertaken for the pandemic that everyone in their own field predicted would eventually happen. Yet that was the primary purpose for their job to exist! Once all hell broke loose, there were no plans for the criteria to re-open, when, or how. There were never any plans for anything.

And that is a partial list. I have no confidence public health “experts” can plan the necessary steps to deliver nearly 1 million vaccinations per day for six months. Let’s hope they learned something this year and can surprise us by tackling this huge challenge.

Otherwise, our lives will remain socially distanced and isolated through the end of 2021, and likely in to 2022 – if they don’t get their act together. The economic costs of their failure to act will continue to be immense.

Update: Since it may take 1-3 months for vaccine supplies to ramp up, this implies it would not be possible to mass vaccinate nearly one million per day until after a few months ramp up. Consequently, predictions of removing restrictions in six months after vaccinations starts seems unrealistic – restrictions will likely extend into 2H 2021. Previously, I had thought life would return to normal in Q2 of 2021 but now think it is more likely to occur in late Q3 into Q4. That is a tough one to swallow.

Globally, where many countries may lack the personnel and infrastructure to mass vaccinate entire populations, this is very likely to extend well into 2022.