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Do states have what they need to conduct mass vaccinations?

Many are hoping the first doses of a Pfizer vaccine could be given out in the U.S. as soon as next week, and a vaccine by Moderna could follow before the month's end. But there are real concerns about how quickly states can conduct mass vaccinations. Amna Nawaz spoke with Dr. Jennifer Kates, senior vice president and director of global health at the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, to discuss.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    Still, many are hoping the first doses of a Pfizer vaccine could be given out in the U.S. next week and that a vaccine by Moderna would follow before the month is out.

    But there are real concerns over how quickly the second and the third waves of mass vaccinations can happen, and whether states have what they need.

    Jen Kates looks at all of this and the U.S. government's role. She's a senior vice president and director of global health at the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, and she joins me now.

    Jen Kates, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    The approval, as we covered, is one part of the process. It's going to be up to the states to receive the vaccine, to deliver it. It's an enormous process. Let's just talk about the funding first.

    Do we know that the states have what they need in order to pay for this enormous undertaking?

  • Jen Kates:

    Hi. It's good to be here.

    Actually, what the states have said is that they don't have the funding necessary yet to do what is an unprecedented effort that we have never had happen in the United States.

    The amount of funding that they have received — and this is funding to do distribution, identify vaccinators, hire people, systems to track the vaccine, communications plans — they received $200 million from the federal government for that. It's estimated they need about $6 billion to $8 billion, maybe more. So they haven't received enough money yet.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And is there some kind of pipeline they will get the money from? In other words, do we know they will get what they need to carry this out?

  • Jen Kates:


    So, there is some additional money that might be coming from the federal government this month, but very little. Right now, the money that they need as — is caught up in the stimulus discussions on the Hill. It's both the federal — both the Republican and Democratic bills that have been put out there, the packages include several billion dollars for vaccine funding.

    In fact, that's not a point of contention at all. But it's being held hostage, to some extent, to the larger discussions or debates about the stimulus. And unless that gets passed, they won't get additional funding. There's no other pipeline.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, let's talk about how ready they are on all the other fronts. It takes more than just money, right? Do they have storage? Do they have the physical things that they need to carry out the vaccinations? Do they have things to track how the vaccinations are going? Are all of those things in place?

  • Jen Kates:

    It really varies.

    States have been asked to prepare plans and send them to the federal government. We analyzed these plans, and what we found is that states are all over the map. They're working really hard, but they're working already from a place of a deficit in terms of their resources to do so.

    So, some states are really ready to do the cold storage, to track doses. They have the systems going. Others are much more at the beginning of that process, trying to figure it out, not sure how they're going to deliver the vaccine to certain parts of their state.

    So, we're seeing say very, very wide range of preparedness to take this on.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, one of the things we have seen throughout the pandemic is how unevenly it's hit Americans. We know that Black and Latino and Native communities have been hit hardest, are more likely to get sick, more likely to die.

    As states are making the consideration about who gets the vaccine and how to deliver it to certain communities, are they taking steps to make sure those same inequities don't play out over vaccine distribution?

  • Jen Kates:

    This is a really critical issue, the equity issues about this vaccine.

    If the vaccines is not distributed or taken up in a way that addresses that, it could exacerbate the very problems we have already seen. Some of the states are proactively looking at this. They have health equity task forces. They have put in measures to try to assess what populations in their state need extra outreach to.

    Maybe it's about locations of vaccination clinics, that kind of thing. Others haven't included that information in their planning. This will be a really big issue going forward, and it may be the kind of thing that only the federal government can, from its vantage point, look out across the country and ensure that equity is being reached and everybody who needs the vaccine is getting it, or at least getting offered it.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Jen, it's important to note that cases are still rising across most of the country.

    A lot of people are looking at the vaccine as sort of the beginning of the end of the pandemic. But if there isn't mitigation in place to slow virus spread, what does that mean for how effective the vaccine can be?

  • Jen Kates:

    This is a really critical issue.

    We know the vaccine will be very effective if we get it to enough people. And in the beginning, it's going to be rationed. We just won't have enough supply. So, as it's rolled out across the country, we still will need to practice those social distancing mitigation measures that all of us are very familiar with, mask wearing, avoiding large crowds, doing the things that we all are, frankly, really tired of, but need to keep doing to make this work.

    And I think what we will see is, as more and more people are vaccinated, cases will decline. We will see an impact. So, it will be a delicate balance, but people have to know that it's not going to be immediate.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That is Jen Kates of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

    Thanks for being with us.

  • Jen Kates:

    Thank you.

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