Who Should Get The Coronavirus Vaccine? For Some States, The Honor System Rules

Jan 16, 2021
Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Now that health care workers and nursing home residents are getting the COVID-19 vaccine, states wrestle with who ought to be next. So, for example, essential workers - well, who's considered essential, who's merely important? People with underlying illnesses - if so, which ones? Will you have to show proof? What kind? Many states have decided to use what amounts to the honor system to determine who should be next in line for the coronavirus vaccine.

We're joined now by Dr. Jenny Arnold. She is the CEO of the Washington State Pharmacy Association and also a member of the committee that devised the state's eligibility system. Thanks so much for being with us, Dr. Arnold.

JENNY ARNOLD: Thank you very much.

SIMON: So you just trust everyone to be honest?

ARNOLD: Well, any system can be gamed. And honestly, being able to have the best and most equitable distribution of vaccine, this seemed like the best solution to the committee.

SIMON: Well, for example, I gather Monday in your area, people can go online to determine their eligibility. How's that going to work?

ARNOLD: We've actually been in a bit of a test phase with the system since the beginning of the month. And we've been using it just with health care workers to self-assess their risk of work and where they work and their access to patients. And so far in the initial phases, it's worked really well.

SIMON: But do you make anybody - will you make anybody produce a driver's license with date of birth, any kind of health care card that certifies that they have a certain condition, anything like that?

ARNOLD: The challenge with having people produce a license, a health care worker license, for instance, in our Phase 1a is that not every person who works in a health care setting has a health care license. The housekeepers, the support staff, the people who are interacting with COVID waste or cleaning up after it - they all have a significant risk but yet aren't health care workers themselves.

One of the things that we heard most consistently from the hospitals, from the pharmacies is they didn't want to have to be the regulators. They didn't want to have to turn people away. They didn't want to have to be the ones to decide who was in and who was out. They wanted to be able to vaccinate people quickly and efficiently and not spend a lot of time haggling over individual people's value.

SIMON: What do you think ought to be done now, given all the problems there are nationally with the rollout of the vaccine? What have we learned in the past couple of weeks, and what should we do now?

ARNOLD: I think we've learned that we need more resources than we even have now, more access points and more hands on deck to be able to roll out vaccine distribution. I think that the impulse is that if things aren't going well, we need more reporting, we need more data. And I want to make sure that we don't get health care workers spending all of their time writing up who they're giving vaccine to and where that vaccine is going. I want their resources to be put in vaccine clinics and getting staff out into the community. And I think those increased access points are going to be invaluable for increasing the rate of vaccine distribution.

SIMON: Dr. Jenny Arnold heads the Washington State Pharmacy Association. Thanks so much for being with us.

ARNOLD: Oh, thank you so much. Stay safe.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.