Last month, with the first rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, we saw the beginning of the end of the pandemic. We were happy to see front-line health care workers and the elderly get the vaccine, and are encouraged by public efforts to encourage all segments of the population to get vaccinated. Vaccines offer the prospect of a “return to normal,” and we celebrate the fact that the potential cure was achieved in record time.
Israel has emerged as a success story in the vaccine rollout process. The Jewish state began vaccinations on Dec. 19 and has already inoculated more than 12 percent of its population, the highest per capita rate in the world. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu deserves credit for negotiating early in the pandemic to secure vaccines, and Israel has shown remarkable efficiency in distributing the vaccine through the country’s national health care system.
Here in the United States, the rollout has been messier. Of the announced goal of vaccinating 20 million people by the end of 2020, only about 20 percent have received the vaccine. According to reports, the process of actually getting the vaccine to people has been a challenge. Since there is no national distribution plan, the vaccine delivery burden has shifted to state and local governments, whose resources are already stretched by the surging coronavirus. As a result, how people receive the vaccine and even who can receive it varies from state to state and adds to confusion.
At least two other factors affect distribution efforts: misinformation and lack of trust in the medical establishment, and fraud. Polls indicate that more than 40 percent of Americans do not plan to get the vaccine. While it is difficult to deal with stubborn anti-vaxxers, a concentrated education program in other hesitant communities could help change perceptions and increase understanding of the value of the vaccine. We encourage those efforts.
But we’re not sure what to do about coronavirus vaccine scams. Public vulnerability is routinely fertile ground for shady dealings. And the pandemic is no exception. One episode of particular embarrassment to the Jewish community took place in New York, where ParCare Community Health Network, a network of health clinics owned by a Chasidic Jewish leader from Brooklyn, is being investigated for improperly obtaining doses of the coronavirus vaccine and distributing them in contravention of New York State guidelines. While many who received the misdirected doses did not know of the alleged underlying improprieties, they did have to know that the opportunity they were given was inconsistent with state guidelines, which should have been reason to inquire further.
In the weeks ahead, we hope that the process will regularize, that a workable national distribution plan will develop, that orderly inoculation will proceed and that everyone who wants the vaccine will get it. As that process unfolds, we must be patient and vigilant. Continue to wear masks, avoid crowds and observe social distancing guidelines. Working together, we can help achieve universal immunization.