Editorial: Yes, leaders should improve the vaccination system, but we should also adjust our expectations
photo by: Journal-World Photo Illustration
Math can be an infuriating companion. It is obstinate, self-assured and unforgiving. We should all remember that as many Douglas County residents rightfully process their frustrations over the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine in our community.
As the county last week announced it would move into the Phase 2 vaccination stage on Jan. 29, frustration has reached high levels as many residents 65 and older have struggled to secure an appointment time.
While there are legitimate concerns about the sign-up process, might we suggest you take your fury out on that old foe math, rather than well-intentioned public health leaders. Public health officials estimate that about 40,000 Douglas County residents are eligible for the vaccine in Phase 2. Currently, the county has about 960 vaccines available for Phase 2. With math like that, you could have a perfect sign-up system and still have frustration levels through the roof.
That said, though, Douglas County leaders do need to make sure their sign-up system for the vaccine evolves. It seems many people would prefer a system that allows people to sign up for the vaccine at their leisure, then await word from the health department about when their appointment is. Conceivably they would be given a couple of days notice to rearrange their schedules to accommodate the vaccine appointment or reject it. That system is not perfect either, and members of the public likely have no true knowledge of how feasible it is to implement. The public doesn’t know what technology limitations, for instance, the health department is working with as it implements a sign-up system for a task unlike any it has attempted before.
However, at a minimum, the county needs to make some changes to the current system that make the process feasible for people who don’t have good access to the internet or smart phone technology. The current sign-up system relies heavily on people getting access to the internet. When confronted with that issue, some seniors without technology were being told to ask a friend to help them with the process. That advice fails to recognize one of the sadder statements you’ll ever hear: Some seniors aren’t only technology deprived but are also friend-and-family deprived. In a community that values equity, we have to come up with a better system for those who are technologically disadvantaged.
Importantly, the city and county must be prepared to commit financial resources to the effort, if needed. The county received approximately $25 million in federal pandemic relief funds late last year. That money went to many good causes, but not much of the funding, it appears, went to vaccination planning efforts. We cannot now let a lack of resources stop us from improving the system.
Of course, government leaders gladly would take more help. It is important to remember that part of our predicament currently is the mindset of state’s rights and local control being the guiding principles of the pandemic response. It has been a real failure across the board. We have leaders who say we are fighting a war, yet they deem the strategy is to have 50 separate armies. Any general will tell you that is a prescription for defeat. In reality, our strategy has been even worse than that. While much criticism has gone to a lack of a coordinated response at the federal level, the state of Kansas has left much undone too. Douglas County is basically coming up with its own vaccination plan rather than taking one from the state.
The best advice for the moment probably is the one people are getting tired of hearing: Practice patience, perseverance and perspective. And, importantly, offer grace. This is new to all of us, but it also is affecting all of us. We’re all in this boat, which means no one is really alone.
Perhaps it would be helpful to picture that joyful day, which truly will come for many of us. It will be the day when a health care professionals approach us with needle in hand. They will have the vaccine we’ve so long sought, and as the needle approaches our arm, they likely will utter a phrase such as “this may sting a bit.”
Today, we can attest it indeed does. But it won’t forever.