How West Virginia, one of America’s poorest and most rural states, became a leader in rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine

By comparison, Canada’s vaccine rollout has been glacial

Every health-care professional qualified to give a needle, draw blood or provide other vaccines, should be authorized to give the COVID-19 vaccine, writes David Clement. PHOTO BY MARIO TAMA/GETTY IMAGES

The average Canadian doesn’t know much about West Virginia. For most of us, familiarity with the state is limited to cheap stereotypes or John Denver’s classic country music song “Take me home, country roads.” Little did we know that the Mountain State, ignored by many, would end up a leader in rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine.

While Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole was battling it out on Twitter with Liberals over who should get priority vaccinations, West Virginia delivered, and offered, a COVID-19 vaccine to every single person currently residing in a long-term care home. You read that right. Every single person who wanted the vaccine, in each and every one of West Virginia’s 214 long-term care homes, has been vaccinated. West Virginia’s rollout has been so successful it will start vaccinating teachers and school staff next week.

To do a better job rolling out the vaccine, Canadian provinces should follow West Virginia’s lead

Canadians should be both astonished and outraged. The virus has killed more than 16,000 of our fellow citizens, and more than 80 per cent of those deaths have been people living in long-term care homes. How has West Virginia, one of the United States’ poorest and most rural states, accomplished the seemingly impossible?

First off, it sidestepped Operation Warp Speed’s recommendation for two main vaccine facilitators (CVS and Walgreens). Instead, it decentralized as much as it could and partnered with hundreds of pharmacies, both independent and chain, to deliver and administer the vaccines in long-term care homes. Pharmacies with sufficient cold storage and backup generators were mobilized in a hub-and-spoke model that tasked each pharmacy with ensuring local long-term care vaccinations. This, alongside the state’s not getting too bureaucratic about its priority schedule, helped these pharmacies take only two weeks to give every single long-term care resident their first dose of the vaccine. This hub-and-spoke model, coupled with the less rigid priority schedule, allowed for the state to be far more dynamic, which is why the rollout was 50 per cent quicker than originally planned.

By comparison, Canada’s vaccine rollout has been glacial. Our federal government was late to procure vaccines, and although it overcompensated by mass-purchasing vaccines from virtually all providers, we’re too far down most providers’ lists to get supplies quickly. Provinces have also dropped the ball. Ontario, for example, made the mistake of pausing vaccinations over the Christmas break, as if the virus has any regard for our holiday schedule. Our long-term care workers were certainly in need of a holiday break, but couldn’t other qualified professionals have helped fill the gap over the holidays?

When we compare Canada with our international counterparts, the depressing nature of our reality sets in. As of Jan. 8, we were vaccinating approximately 31 times slower than Israel, 15 times slower than the United Arab Emirates, seven times slower than Bahrain, three times slower than the U.K., 2.8 times slower than the U.S., 2.8 times slower than Denmark, 2.3 times slower than Iceland, and 1.2 times slower than Slovenia and Italy. If the trend continues, almost all of Europe could pass Canada within the next seven to 10 days.

To do a better job rolling out the vaccine, Canadian provinces should follow West Virginia’s lead. We should call in pharmacies and other health-care providers to help so that we exhaust our supply as soon and safely as possible. Every health-care professional qualified to give a needle, draw blood or provide other vaccines, should be authorized to give the COVID-19 vaccine. Going this route ensures we have as many access points as possible, at each stage, which in turn means we aren’t left twiddling our thumbs while provincial authorities stumble their way through the rollout.

A more rapid rollout that exhausts supply as quickly as possible puts more pressure on the federal government to ensure quicker delivery for the vaccine orders it has secured. Right now, the two levels of government are pointing fingers at each other. A faster provincial rollout would prevent Ottawa from passing the buck on its procurement responsibilities. That’s exactly the position West Virginia is in right now. When the state’s “COVID czar,” Dr. Clay Marsh, was asked what Washington could do to help, his response was simple: “Give us more vaccines!”

Because of vaccines the end of the pandemic is in view. Canadians have accepted a lot during the COVID crisis. They will not accept that we have so few doses and can’t seem to administer the short supply we do have. Politicians at both levels of government need a kick in the pants. Looking at West Virginia could and should get things moving in the right direction.

David Clement is North American affairs manager at the Consumer Choice Center.

Originally published here.

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