Solving the Patchwork Approach to Vaccines


Photo by Hakan Nural | Unsplash

Photo by Hakan Nural | Unsplash


Here’s one thing I’m hoping to get soon: a coronavirus vaccine. But in so many parts of the country, getting a vaccine can be a complicated, confusing ordeal. The CDC guidelines recommend that the most vulnerable receive the vaccine first, but that’s left open to interpretation. As The New York Times put it: 

“The change in presidents has brought nearly diametrical federal responses to the pandemic, but the country is facing a patchwork of rules, state to state and city to city, similar to what was seen when the virus arrived a year ago and during the last months of the Trump administration.” 

Here’s a look at the patchwork quilt itself. For the percent of the population that is partially vaccinated, most states have made it above 15%, but only a few have surpassed the 20% mark. 


The good news is if we keep up this current pace of vaccine administration, a CNN analysis shows the United States could reach herd immunity by late summer through vaccination alone.  But in the meantime, vaccine eligibility is all across the board, depending on where you live. Health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities have been eligible for vaccination in every state for weeks.  


Each state has also started widely vaccinating older adults, though the minimum age varies across the country. For example, West Virginia has now lowered its vaccine eligibility age to 50. The state’s Republican Governor Jim Justice broke from the federal standardized pharmacy program – and federal guidance on eligibility – and managed to administer vaccines at a faster rate than the majority of states in the first month of the rollout.  


In Connecticut, vaccines are available solely by age – Democratic Governor Ned Lamont cites fairness and simplicity. He said the vast majority of people over the age of 55 will be vaccinated by March 19th.  


Then there’s Florida, where tens of thousands of eligible seniors on vaccine waitlists had to wait even longer. About six thousand people jumped ahead of those seniors after the state helped set up invitation-only vaccine drives in at least two wealthy communities in Florida.  


A spokesperson for Republican Governor Ron DeSantis previously told CNN, “The insinuation that politics play into vaccine distribution in Florida is baseless and ridiculous.” 


Beyond age requirements – the occupation-based vaccination approach is where things start to get wonky. Every state except Montana is vaccinating some form of “essential worker,” but the lists of which professions are eligible to vary widely by state. 

In Georgia and 11 other states, teachers still aren’t eligible. Worth noting: those educators will be getting shots after several great apes at the San Diego Zoo. They became the first non-humans to receive an experimental COVID-19 vaccine. 


And eligibility, for humans or otherwise, is just one part of the equation. Access is key.  

Across nearly all states that have released demographic data, black and Hispanic residents are getting vaccinated at lower rates than white people, leading to concerns about inequities in vaccine access across the country. 


You could be eligible for a vaccine but live in an area where the supply is low. A recent analysis by the Rural Policy Research Institute found that 111 rural counties – mostly located between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains – have no pharmacy that can give the vaccines. That could leave thousands of Americans struggling to find vaccines.  

Oddly, it’s the opposite problem here in Philly.  A Philadelphia Inquirer analysis of recent State Department of Health data shows that four large suburban Philadelphia counties have received many fewer doses of vaccine by population than counties much, much smaller. 


Perhaps you’re one of those people who has woken up at 5 a.m. And spent hours on the internet, waiting for a coveted slot to open up.  But in all the chaos – there’s one pocket of the country where getting a vaccine is more like the infamous Oprah free car giveaway (i.e. You get a vaccine! You get a vaccine!)


If you are a Gila County, Arizona resident over the age of 18, you can walk up to a clinic without an appointment, and get your COVID-19 vaccine. Pretty simple. And no, they’re not bypassing the CDC recommendation of vaccinating the most vulnerable first. They’ve already checked that box, and then became one of the first places in the country to open up vaccines to the general population.  


So what’s the secret? Watch my interview with Al Gameros, the Mayor of Globe, Arizona, located in Gila County.



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