Atul Gawande discusses COVID-19 vaccine challenges

Although the past 10 months of fighting COVID-19 have been extraordinarily difficult, the coming months will bring a different and massive challenge, says Atul Gawande: distributing vaccines to the roughly 330 million people in the U.S., and doing so fairly.

Gawande—professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management and a surgeon, author, New Yorker staff writer, Ariadne Labs co-founder, and member of President-elect Joe Biden’s coronavirus task force—spoke about vaccines and other issues surrounding COVID-19 in a December 4, 2020 interview with New Yorker editor David Remnick.

Rolling out a coronavirus vaccine “is an undertaking on another scale from anything we’ve been doing in the last year,” Gawande said. “We have deployed north of a hundred and twenty million coronavirus tests in the course of eight months. This is going to be three hundred and thirty million vaccines, done twice [because the first vaccines available will require two doses], and hoping to accomplish it in the course of six months or less.”

Demand will outstrip supply at first, Gawande noted. “People are going to clamor for this vaccine,” he said. “And, if they think that the system is rigged, we will have even more trouble.”

Many of the 87 million workers at heightened risk of exposure to the virus include people like meatpackers, grocery store workers, and bus drivers, Gawande noted. And while many people may balk at having to wait months to get a vaccine while others go first, Gawande said that essential workers “are the folks most at risk. They make our subways work. They make our buses work. They get our food supply to us. They make it possible for me to go grocery shopping, and I’ll just have to wait three or four months for my turn.”

Other topics Gawande addressed included U.S. missteps during the pandemic, the Trump administration’s lack of cooperation in sharing COVID-19 information with the incoming Biden team, and misinformation promulgated by the anti-vaccine movement.

Read the New Yorker article: Atul Gawande on Coronavirus Vaccines and Prospects for Ending the Pandemic