The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The vaccine rollout is flagging. It must be accelerated.

A front-line worker receives a coronavirus vaccine at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington on Dec. 16.
A front-line worker receives a coronavirus vaccine at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington on Dec. 16. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
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UNLIKE WITH other botched aspects of the pandemic response this year, such as the shortages of diagnostic testing kits and personal protective equipment, the Trump administration has had months to plan for the massive rollout of a vaccine. The officials at Operation Warp Speed knew the nation required a logistics effort never before attempted. Yet instead of warp speed, the rollout has begun at a saunter. It must be accelerated.

Contrary to promises from the chief adviser to the operation, Moncef Slaoui, that 20 million Americans would be immunized in December, the month ends with only about 2 million shots given and 11 million shipped to the states. As Post contributing columnist Leana S. Wen pointed out, at this rate it will take about 10 years to reach 80 percent of Americans with two doses. Over and over again, the administration’s promises have turned out to be as reliable as President Trump’s claim the virus would just go away.

The federal government in recent years has put more focus on vaccinating children than adults — now the need is to reach adults. The states have experience with vaccines, but the pandemic vaccine, with two different shots and complex storage and logistical requirements, is quite difficult, more so than the annual influenza immunization. For several months, state public health authorities have been telling Washington that they were badly overstretched and needed billions of dollars to finance the vaccine rollout. Nothing happened. Without the added resources, the states could not easily plan ahead. Finally, nearly $9 billion in aid was included in the latest stimulus bill signed by Mr. Trump. The administration is just starting to launch a public communications strategy to counter vaccine hesitancy. Everyone seems to be building the boat just as it is sailing.

Full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic

Mr. Trump, who last spring dumped the pandemic response in the lap of the states, said on Wednesday that the slow rollout wasn’t his fault. “The Federal Government has distributed the vaccines to the states. Now it is up to the states to administer. Get moving!” The president’s blame game is as familiar as it is irresponsible.

By contrast, President-elect Joe Biden reaffirmed on Tuesday his promise to deliver 100 million shots in his first 100 days, ramping up the current pace by five or six times. It is a tall order, but Mr. Biden at least has the right ambition.

The imperative for accelerating the pace is clear. A new wave of sickness and death will inevitably follow the holidays. Also, a new variant of the virus, which appears to be more transmissible, is spreading. Even if the new variant does not lead to more severe symptoms, a faster and wider spread could wreak havoc on health-care systems already staggering under the load.

A dashboard showing exactly what’s happening with the vaccine rollout in the states would be useful to track progress. It is not overstating the case to say the campaign is a race against time. A saunter won’t win.

Read more:

Leana S. Wen: Coronavirus vaccinations are off to a very slow start. That should set off alarms.

Joan Bregstein: Think about getting vaccinated like voting. It’s your civic duty.

Leana S. Wen: Debunking five common concerns about the covid-19 vaccines

Megan McArdle: We should embrace the Cassandras when the next disaster comes

The Post’s View: The U.S. was supposed to be equipped to handle a pandemic. So what went wrong?