You all might be living in 21st-century America, but those of us who reside in this new version of Moscow, circa 1975, have to scoff at quasi-optimism. Beat COVID-19? With a bunch of dysfunctional Safeway websites? With dozens of different institutions, each one requiring different forms and a different registration?

Signs that we live in a dying superpower are all around us. Officials seem to make illogical, chaotic decisions; and everything is much more complicated than it needs to be. Could no one have invented an app or a website that assigns people to doses and vaccination sites in order of priority? Is it impossible for Maryland to dump Safeway, take direct control of the process, and order its National Guard to give out the vaccine at schools? How about letting the very oldest people get their shots first—as more orderly countries have done—before opening up the system to a million others?

I get that states are supposed to have a system: Like others, Maryland’s website solemnly lists the various categories of people who are approved to receive the vaccine, and in what order. Like everywhere else, state officials are talking a lot about equity—the need to make sure that poorer communities are getting vaccinated. But this is like the propaganda in Pravda that showed gleaming shops with packed shelves when everyone knew they were empty. In practice, the people who are getting the vaccine first are the ones in the right health-care or hospital groups, the ones who can spend the day clicking links, the ones who are really fast at filling out forms. Supermarket pharmacies and busy hospitals have been left to navigate the mismatch between supply and demand; anyone without a computer or an internet connection is in big trouble. The result is no more fair or logical than an old-fashioned Moscow queue for cabbage.