Automotive Blogs

COVID-19 Vaccine Chaos

by Roger Lanctot | Jan 25, 2021

Florida is cracking down on vaccine tourism. Connecticut is struggling with online scheduling of senior citizen vaccinations. Dollar General, Aldi, and Trader Joe’s are paying employees to get vaccinated.

Reports of vaccine shortages are sweeping the country along with growing reports of unused vaccination doses. Airlines are testing health passports and at least one cruise line is requiring proof of inoculation.

Vaccination euphoria is rapidly being replaced by vaccination enervation.

Meanwhile, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports just 1,000 cases of seasonal flu this year vs. 65,000 during last year’s flu season – due to the highest ever regular flu vaccination rate and the measures taken to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 coronavirus: hand washing, mask wearing, and social distancing. 

New York Times' state inoculation status: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/covid-19-vaccine-doses.html

COVID-19 Map and Risk and Inoculation Levels by State and County: https://covidactnow.org/?s=1546488

The effort to target early vaccinations at prioritized populations including older Americans, frontline healthcare workers, and at-risk groups with underlying conditions is beginning to break down as limited supplies of vaccine doses are going unused. But first-come, first-served strategies, as implemented in Florida, have touched off waves of avid vaccine seekers flocking from outside the state and country to get in line – CNN reports that 39,000 non-residents of Florida were vaccinated before the state changed its rules last week.

According to Travel and Leisure, being inoculated is starting to be required for travel purposes. “The Seychelles, an island off the eastern coast of Africa, now allows fully vaccinated travelers to enter the country, and Saga Cruises, a cruise line that caters to passengers 50 and older, will require guests to be fully vaccinated before boarding.”

Travel and Leisure further notes that airlines including American, Etihad, and Emirates have started testing the concept of health passports to streamline travel and help customers upload required documents.

States are struggling to prioritize and distribute inoculations.  The confusion being experienced in Connecticut is typical. The Hartford Courant reports:

“Confusion about eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccination and a lack of safeguards to prevent not-yet-eligible people from making appointments has allowed some residents to receive a shot before they’re technically allowed, raising concern that the state’s most vulnerable residents aren’t being adequately prioritized.

“Currently, the state is in Phase 1B of vaccinations, which will eventually include more than 1.3M residents. But the state is rolling out eligibility in subphases, meaning that the different Phase 1B groups will be vaccinated at different times.

“Because of their greatly increased risk of dying from COVID-19, residents age 75 and older are at the front of the Phase 1B line and are currently the only group eligible to receive the vaccine. (Those eligible under Phase 1A, which included health care workers and nursing home residents, can also still receive the vaccine if they have not yet done so.)

“Others in Phase 1B, including residents between the ages of 65 and 74, frontline essential workers such as teachers and residents with underlying conditions that put them at increased risk of COVID-19 are not yet technically eligible for the vaccine.

“But since Phase 1B began Jan. 18, there have been numerous snafus. Not-yet-eligible teachers have been vaccinated by the hundreds. Residents age 65 to 74 report scheduling vaccination appointments and, in some cases, actually receiving their first shot.

“In some cases, state officials said that school districts have mistakenly uploaded their entire staff rosters — not just nurses, who were eligible as health care workers — to the state registration system. In other cases, it is still unclear why there weren’t appropriate safeguards in place to prevent people from making vaccine appointments who weren’t eligible.”

Making matters worse in Connecticut, eligible seniors (75 years or older) are required to schedule appointments online, a process that has been unreliable for those that have used it and an utter failure for those lacking access to the Internet.

In Texas, the San Antonio Express-News reports “the state is currently offering the vaccine to frontline workers and vulnerable Texans, a group of more than 9M people – even though the state is only receiving about 300,000 doses a week.”  That approach to “prioritization” has led to long lines at vaccination centers – not unlike those experienced in Florida for different reasons.  

These disruptions will complicate the efforts of employers to either require vaccinations for employees or to reward employees who are able to get vaccines. NPR reported last week that Aldi announced it would compensate employees for getting vaccinated, providing workers with two hours of pay for each of the two vaccine doses.

Aldi also said workers receiving vaccines would not lose pay for missed hours from work and that it would help pay for the shots. Aldi joins Trader Joe’s and Dollar General in offering to pay employees extra hourly wages to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Online grocery delivery company Instacart is offering a $25 stipend for eligible workers and contractors. Uber and other gig economy operators that are dependent upon thousands of independent contractors – many of whom lack healthcare benefits – requested priority status for vaccinations from the Federal government and state governors back in mid-December.

CNET reported at the time: “Uber, Lyft, Instacart, DoorDash and Postmates haven’t said how many of their workers have been infected with COVID-19. But thousands are estimated to have been exposed, according to driver advocacy groups. In early April, Uber confirmed to CNET that more than 1,400 of its drivers had been infected. At least six workers are known to have died from the virus.”

It seems clear that policies for rewarding employees for getting vaccines or requiring them to get vaccines will have to wait for adequate vaccine supplies to arrive – which will take months. This takes some of the edge off of vaccination euphoria. 

It also means that ride hailing companies ought to rethink in-vehicle partition requirements to protect both drivers and passengers – if for no other reason than to instill confidence in both drivers and passengers. Ride hail operators that already notify users within their apps of mask requirements may want to add notifications for those vehicles in their networks that are equipped with partitions (something Lyft already does) as well as, in the future, notifying users of the driver’s inoculation status. It is unlikely that ride hail operators will ever require passengers to carry vaccination passports.

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