Vaccines don’t save lives — vaccinations do.
It’s an old saying in public health that vaccines don’t save lives, vaccinations do. To get from the development of effective vaccines all the way to shots in arms, many actions must be taken.
As vaccines are developed, so are relationships with trusted community partners.
As vaccines are produced, so is accurate, accessible information about the process and the utility of vaccines, and this information is shared widely.
As vaccines are distributed at scale, they are made available in convenient, culturally relevant ways (e.g. mobile clinics, no cost) – and so is the information about vaccines.
As a trained workforce becomes available to administer the vaccines, so is a workforce of trusted messengers.
“Let’s be clear that vaccines are only vaccines until they get in people’s arms. The process through which we get vaccines into people’s arms — the messaging that’s used, the planning that’s used, the framework that’s used — is incredibly significant.”
During the Covid-19 vaccine rollout, action steps that fall into the category of vaccine supply — development, production, details such as working out the logistics of shipping shots that need to be kept at a stable temperature – have received appropriate attention, collaborative effort and financial support since the first pandemic warnings appeared in January 2020, leading to the speedy arrival of highly effective vaccines in pharmacies around the country. Steps such as having a trained workforce to deliver vaccines and making them free were ramped up once vaccines became available in early 2021, though challenges remain. Efforts on steps such as equal access, information creation and trust building — which are key drivers of vaccine demand – have been inconsistent, deprioritized, underestimated and underfunded.
In spite of early warnings that many Americans may not rush to get vaccinated, it wasn’t until March 2021, for example, that funds to build vaccine confidence through communications efforts were made available by the U.S. government, and at about $3 billion to $5 billion, the investments at the time didn’t match the challenge. By comparison, U.S. government spending on vaccine development, manufacturing and distribution at the time already exceeded at least $40 billion to $50 billion.
To be sure, robust supply and distribution efforts are essential in the fight against a deadly virus; running efficient mass vaccination sites and bringing Covid-19 vaccines within five miles of almost every American are remarkable achievements of the U.S. response.
But the focus on vaccine supply and distribution downplays the importance of vaccine demand. In the fight against a deadly virus, demand for the ‘weapon’ that can end the pandemic — vaccines — is fluid and complex, requiring a playbook, hard work, and devoted attention and resources.