The moral imperative now is to get vaccination done quickly. The new year will usher in a rolling recovery, in which relief will move in waves across the nation. The entire time, Americans may struggle to maintain their composure—as the inevitable snafus happen; as healthy working-age adults who are eager to resume their pre-pandemic lives realize that tens or hundreds of millions of people are ahead of them in the vaccine line; as the pandemic goes on killing, day after day.
The United States is about to undergo a vaccination campaign at a speed never before attempted, and Americans aren’t used to seeing public policy scale up this quickly. In the short term, the rollout of the vaccine will be constrained by how quickly pharmaceutical companies can manufacture it. Public policy will have to address four other distinct challenges: the need for public agencies to determine which groups get the vaccine first; varying demand for it, due to deep misgivings about it in some quarters and outright propagandizing against it in others; the difficulties of mass-distributing vaccines that need to be kept at temperatures as low as –70 degrees Celsius; and the data-management challenge of keeping track of who has and hasn’t been vaccinated.
All year, well-meaning health experts have urged Americans to follow the science. But in the year ahead, science will have little to do with our pandemic response. Vaccine distribution is all about logistics, and government officials must level with an impatient public: Bulk delivery is often imperfect, so manage your expectations accordingly.