Public health experts are praising President Biden’s announcement that his administration would create a federal stockpile of coronavirus vaccine doses and invest millions in community outreach, saying the moves would help immunize underserved communities and ensure doses would go where they’re most needed as demand falls.
Until now, vaccines had been allotted to states strictly on the basis of population, despite reports of wasted doses and pleas for more of them where the virus was surging, as in Michigan just weeks ago. In a reversal, the Biden administration is now trying to match supply with demand. Federal officials informed states on Tuesday that if they did not order their full allocation of doses in a given week, that vaccine would be considered part of a federal pool, available to other states that wanted to order more.
The administration had been unwilling to shift doses to states that were faster to administer them out of a concern that low-income communities would lose out to richer areas where residents were more willing to get shots.
Those concerns, which experts say were overstated, could be behind another shift in policy, as the federal government plans to spend tens of millions of dollars on community outreach workers who will provide transport and help arrange child care for those in high-risk neighborhoods who want to be vaccinated.
Also part of the new coronavirus strategy that Mr. Biden announced on Tuesday at the White House: Pharmacies are to allow people to walk in for shots, and pop-up and mobile clinics will distribute vaccines, especially in rural areas. Federal officials also plan to enlist the help of family doctors and other emissaries who are trusted voices in their communities.
“We’ve got the product and we’ve vaccinated the very high-risk people, elderly people in nursing homes, people with diseases,” said Dr. Robert Murphy, executive director of Northwestern University’s Institute for Global Health. “Now we have to get the healthy ones and the younger ones and the ones that are being referred to as vaccine-hesitant.”
Allowing walk-ins at pharmacies would cut down on waste, he said, and funding for community outreach through trusted institutions like churches and schools could help reach people who are reluctant. That could offset the misinformation that has complicated efforts to vaccinate Black and Hispanic residents, who also face obstacles like language and technology barriers and less access to medical facilities.
Dr. Eric Topol, a professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research in La Jolla, Calif., said he was “overjoyed” by the announcement. Dr. Topol pushed for loosening vaccine allocation limits last month, when Michigan was hit with a virus surge and unsuccessfully sought a boost in supply.
The flexibility will allow for states to respond rapidly when they see “the temperatures rising on the heat map of the country,” Dr. Topol said.
As of Tuesday, more than 106 million people in the United States were fully vaccinated and more than 56 percent of adults — or almost 148 million people — had received at least one shot. That has contributed to a steep decline in cases, hospitalizations and deaths across all age groups, federal officials said.
But despite a flood of available doses, the pace of vaccination has fallen considerably over the past two and a half weeks. Providers are now administering an average of about 2.19 million doses per day, about a 35 percent decrease from the peak of 3.38 million reported on April 13, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Officials across the country say they believe that despite falling demand, a substantial portion of Americans will get vaccinated if given more support and more information from trusted messengers, like personal doctors.
“We need to be in the community, asking the community what works for them and keeping that presence,” said Dr. Karen Landers, Alabama’s assistant state health officer. She added: “We are not giving up.”
As Singapore’s coronavirus infections tick up, the government is tightening restrictions. It’s also fighting vaccine hesitancy on social media — by ordering corrections and posting whimsical content.
Singapore said on Tuesday that it had recorded 64 cases of community transmission over the past week, up from 11 cases the previous week. Seven of the recent cases were caused by the B.1.617 variant that has wreaked havoc in India, according to the authorities.
In an effort to tamp down the latest outbreak and prevent variants from spreading, the Singaporean government said on Tuesday that travelers arriving from most countries must quarantine for 21 days at “dedicated facilities,” up from 14 days, starting on Saturday.
Mass sporting events are also set to be suspended and social gatherings will be capped at five people until May 30, among other restrictions.
About 2.2 million people in Singapore, or nearly a quarter of the population, had received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine as of Wednesday, according to a New York Times database.
But Singapore’s vaccination campaign has been threatened by falsehoods spreading on social media — for example, a rumor that Covid-19 vaccines cause strokes and heart attacks.
The Health Ministry has debunked rumors and ordered corrections to social media posts that endorse false or unsubstantiated claims about vaccine side effects. (That is allowed under a contentious law that the government says is designed to fight fake news.)
The government has also commissioned a whimsical music video by a Singaporean pop-culture heavyweight, comedian and actor, Gurmit Singh, that addresses common vaccine concerns and misconceptions.
“Singapore, don’t wait and see,” he sings in the chorus, dancing to a disco beat. “Better get your shot, steady pom pi pi.”
“Steady pom pi pi” is a phrase from Singlish, a rough-and-ready patois that is spoken widely in the country and incorporates English, Chinese and Malay. It refers to someone who keeps their cool in a tense situation and was a catchphrase used by Mr. Singh’s best-known character, Phua Chu Kang, a building contractor in a long-running 1990s sitcom on Singaporean television.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the government’s tweet containing the video had been viewed more than 750,000 times.
Since a two-month lockdown ended last June, life in Singapore has gradually returned nearly to normal, although residents are still required to wear masks in public and have to work from home if they can. Dale Fisher, a professor of medicine at the National University of Singapore, said some people in the city-state had become more lax about mask-wearing and social distancing and that the new measures served as a reminder that the pandemic was far from over.
However, Dr. Fisher said, Singapore’s extensive contact tracing and tight quarantine requirements made a harsher lockdown unnecessary. “With all these tweaks, I’m hoping we can demonstrate that widespread lockdowns aren’t needed if you’ve got good public health infrastructure in place,” he added.
In much of the developed world, vaccine orders are soaring into the billions of doses, coronavirus cases are easing and economies are poised to roar back to life. In many less developed nations, though, the virus is raging on, while vaccinations are far too slow to protect even the most vulnerable.
That split screen — clubs and restaurants reopening in the United States and Europe while people gasp for oxygen in India — was never supposed to be so stark.
The problems go well beyond the availability of vaccines to deep-seated logistical problems and vaccine hesitancy.
The stuttering global rollout is having calamitous consequences. Unvaccinated nations are being walloped by the virus. New variants could emerge in reservoirs of untamed infections, prolonging the pandemic for rich and poor nations alike. The global economy stands to suffer trillions of dollars in losses.
Western nations have promised vaccines to the developing world. But these “donations” are a drop in the bucket, and have in some cases been haphazardly planned.
And even as richer nations inoculate their own citizens, they might start saving vaccine-making capacity for booster shots to deploy against new variants, another blow to countries bereft of manufacturing bases.
The stark gap in vaccination rates between the world’s rich and poor countries is emerging as a test for how the world responds to another global challenge: Averting the worst effects of climate change.
Of the more than 1.1 billion vaccinations administered globally, the vast majority have gone into the arms of people who live in the wealthiest countries.
This gap presents an object lesson for climate action because it signals the failure of richer nations to see that it is in their self-interest to urgently help poorer ones fight a global crisis.
The United States has blocked efforts at the World Trade Organization to relax patent rules for Covid-19 vaccines, and pharmaceutical industry groups and their backers in the White House have opposed sharing intellectual property with rival drug makers.
This battle over intellectual property rights also has a parallel to climate action, with the Paris climate agreement calling for the transfer of technology to develop clean energy infrastructure.
Members of the global Indian diaspora, nearly 17 million, have mobilized from afar to help back home, where the Indian health system is buckling under the weight of a devastating coronavirus wave. Here is one U.S. resident’s story.
One evening in late April, as the coronavirus was surging in India, Prarthana Sannamani, a Microsoft software engineer in Seattle, was growing increasingly worried about her parents, who live near the southern Indian city of Bangalore.
“Gosh, I’m so far away. What if my family gets sick and needs help?” she recalled thinking.
Ms. Sannamani, who is in her 20s and has lived in the United States for four years, began scouring the internet and compiling a document with phone numbers for ambulances and hospitals for her parents, in case they fell ill.
“But the list kept growing because I just started finding so much information, and then I thought, hey, I really want this to reach more people,” she said.
She planned to share the list on Twitter, until she realized that only a fraction of India’s 1.3 billion people used the social network, she said. One night, she came up with the idea of building a website. By the time she went to bed six hours later, at 4 a.m., Ms. Sannamani had created covidresourcesindia.com, with contact information for hospitals and emergency services in Bangalore.
The next morning, she shared the website with her co-workers and asked her social media followers to contribute information. But, feeling that she needed to do more, Ms. Sannamani took the day off from work and spent the next 14 hours tracking down additional resources. She has since expanded the site to include emergency help lines and databases of available hospital beds, oxygen, medical treatments and other Covid-19 assistance in 12 cities and nine regions across India.
“The purpose is when something happens, you’re not in that mental state to go to Google and do that research,” Ms. Sannamani said. “What you really need is one place to go and at least have something to start with. India is just such a huge country, so those specific resources help save a lot of time if you know where to look.”