Coronavirus Chronicles

The Vaccine Rollout Is Already an Emotional Roller Coaster

Recapping a wild first week.

By Benjamin Cassidy December 23, 2020

Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine package in refrigeration.

Straight to the freezer for the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, which arrived at UW Medical Center on December 14. 

MONday brought a much-needed boost in Washington's effort to curb the spread of Covid-19. The Seattle Indian Health Board received 500 doses of the coronavirus vaccine developed by biotech firm Moderna and the National Institutes of Health, and other health care providers will get their share of Washington's 128,000-dose allocation as the week progresses. Probably.

Skepticism about vaccine distribution abounds after a wild first week of vial divvying. Though the Moderna–NIH vaccine's approval process hewed to the same timeline as the Pfizer–BioNTech shot's the week before—FDA authorization on Friday, an OK from the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup on Sunday—just about everyone hopes this rollout follows a different script than last week's.

Distribution started positively enough. Seattle frontline workers received some of the first jabs of the Pfizer vaccine last Tuesday at UW Medical Center, one day after vials had shipped from Michigan. It was emotional, and with good reason.

Less than 24 hours later, more promising, and improbable, news arrived: Pharmacists could coax another dose or two from vaccine vials, squeezing six or seven out of every container instead of five, per this New York Times piece. This revelation perhaps came as no surprise to those well-practiced in the art of bopping the bottom of condiment bottles, but it's still a stunner that the most anticipated, and scrutinized, product in memory could offer any surprises. I came across the news shortly after work hours on Wednesday and, as Seattle Met's resident doom-and-gloom news guy, seized an opportunity to post about something sunny on our editorial Slack channel. "Department of good news!" I wrote earnestly, sharing the Times link.

That tenor didn't age well. On Thursday governor Jay Inslee tweeted that the CDC had slashed the state's vaccine dose allocation for this week by 40 percent without explanation. "This is disruptive and frustrating. We need accurate, predictable numbers to plan and ensure on-the-ground success," Inslee wrote. Other states relayed similar cuts, and Pfizer released a statement saying it had "millions more doses" awaiting distribution. Confusion reigned as a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson said supplies weren't being reduced. But Gen. Gustave Perna, the head of Operation Warp Speed's distribution, would later apologize for a "planning error" that included miscalculations. Perna spoke with Inslee and assured him it was a "one-time incident," according to a Seattle Times report.

While Friday brought the FDA's authorization of the Moderna–NIH vaccine, the weekend was dominated by news of a coronavirus mutation circulating in the United Kingdom, South Africa, and, likely, many other places. Nobody knows for certain yet the magnitude of this setback in the Covid-19 response, but the mutation may be more transmissible than other types of the virus and could require adjustments to our current coronavirus vaccines (explainers are everywhere). The variant is concerning enough that Inslee has called for two-week quarantines for passengers returning to Washington from the aforementioned areas.

This latest batch of uncertainty heightened existing apprehensions around who should receive the vaccine after health care workers and long-term care facility residents and staff. Over the weekend, the CDC's advisory group recommended that people 75 and older, as well as frontline essential workers, should be next in line. Still, Washington hasn't released the next phases of its plan.

Nobody expected a vaccine rollout of this scope to be simple. But this first week? It was an emotional roller coaster. More vaccines are in the pipeline, which should help supply numbers. Still, with potentially different efficacies (raise your hand if you want the less effective one!), these vaccines, a federal administration transition, and many other factors will mean many more bumps along the way to normalcy.

Show Comments