We can learn a lot from West Virginia’s vaccination program

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At the outset of the United States’ vaccine rollout, 49 states partnered with Walgreen and CVS to distribute vaccines around the country. The one state that didn’t? Scrappy little West Virginia. West Virginia has a poor record with public health, having one of the highest rates of obesity, cigarette usage and opioid addiction. West Virginia has also been first or second in the country (depending on the week) in the effectiveness of their vaccine rollout.

The success of West Virginia’s vaccination scheme is even more exceptional considering their large elderly population, the existing public health problems, the lack of health infrastructure, the penetration of COVID-19 infections, and the sidelining of West Virginia as a vaccine priority.

West Virginia’s vaccination program is successful because of its reliance on local community leaders and institutions, providing a more agile and personalized response. Rather than allowing a large chain like CVS to distribute vaccines, West Virginia networked the hundreds of local pharmacies in the state together. This allowed the state to distribute vaccines to remote and rural communities that lack these major chains. Furthermore, West Virginia immediately relied on the National Guard for the logistics of the vaccine distribution, figuring it more efficient than traditional government bureaucracy.

While West Virginia’s population is comparable to that of Phoenix, a community-led response could work in larger states, like currently-flailing New York. In fact, a community-led response, where the decisions on distribution of vaccines are made on a smaller scale, in accordance with community leaders and local stakeholders, will be absolutely necessary in the later stage of the vaccine rollout because it is the only effective way to counter misinformation.

It has long been known that the most effective way to fight against vaccine misinformation is private, one-on-one conversations with one’s physician. The range of different concerns people have about the COVID-19 vaccine are broad enough, and skepticism towards media is so high, that personal connections are more necessary than ever.

A monolithic COVID-19  response like New York’s, is rampant with impossibly complicated registration sites and elaborate schemes to see who gets the vaccine impedes the ability to distribute vaccines effectively and equitably. Distributing to communities and allowing significant autonomy from there is the only way to go.

Regardless, the rate of vaccination needs to speed up. Former President Donald Trump’s policy of states ad-hoc managing vaccine distribution, a system that hasn’t significantly changed under Joe Biden’s administration, has led to the United States being firmly unvaccinated. When there are thousands of deaths a day, speed is absolutely necessary. The United States is at nearly 2,000,000 fewer daily COVID-19 vaccines than was projected, and that projection still didn’t have the United States with a very effective distribution.

There are huge difficulties in distributing COVID-19 vaccines, but if states were a bit more like West Virginia, it’d go far more smoothly.


Logan Graham ’22 is from Warrenville, IL.

His major is philosophy.

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