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Corona Diaries: The vaccine roll-out – waiting your turn in an age of same-day delivery

February 4, 2021

We in Britain are experiencing a bit of cognitive dissonance at the moment. How can a government widely condemned as the most incompetent in decades make such a mess of PPE procurement and COVID testing and tracing, yet manage to pull off what looks like the most successful vaccination programme in Europe?

Although you can read any number of analyses by people more qualified than me to comment, I have no pat answer to that question, except possibly that if you chuck enough projects against a wall, some will stick.

The only barrier to full roll-out appears to be the reluctance of people to be vaccinated. Unless, of course, the European Union manages to divert enough of our supply to boost its own struggling efforts.

There is no vaccine hesitancy in our house. If the little jab in our arms turns us into zombies programmed to read the Daily Mail, grow scales and buy Microsoft products for the rest of our lives, so be it. Better that than to end our days in ventilated oblivion.

But I do feel a measure of vaccine anxiety. In my case it was sparked off by a visit to my GP surgery two weeks ago. The appointment was not COVID-related, but I took the opportunity of the appointment with the practice pharmacist to ask where I and my wife were in the vaccine queue.

It was good news for me, and not so good for her. My call for the jab, according to him, was imminent. Hers was likely to be in September. Strange really, since I’m only six years older than her. The reason my appointment would be any day now was that, according to him, I was in the second priority group. And she is apparently in the seventh.

Yet according to the government priority list, I don’t belong to the second highest eligible category, although she is definitely in the seventh. Why people like her who are aged between 60 and 65 might have to wait until September when the government has promised that all those in the first four groups – 70 and over – will get their first doses by the middle of this month, is beyond me.

For my part, I must have misinterpreted his words, because two weeks later I’ve heard nothing. I would expect my call-up to be just around the corner, and I very much doubt that my wife will have to wait another seven months.

It’s strange, though, that in the intervening time the jungle drums have been beating. Friends of around my age have had the jab, including some younger than me. One of them, who lives thirty miles away, is ten years younger. He showed up at his local clinic on spec and got his dose. On the social media I’m learning of people of my age in other parts of the country who have also been vaccinated.

I’m not yet at the point of paranoia, though I wouldn’t want to end up pegging out when so close to salvation. And I don’t want to work myself into a lather of envy because of hearsay.

That said, another cause of slight disquiet is an apparent divergence between the official instruction – that you should, in true British fashion, should wait your turn until you are called – and numerous reports that some vaccine centres are doling out doses to people who show up at the end of the day when there’s a danger that unused vaccine will go to waste.

I would understand if that was happening with a nod and a wink, just as during Second World War rationing, Mr Jones the butcher would tip off his favourite customers about the arrival of a slab of streaky bacon. After all, if everybody showed up in the hope of a jab at 5pm, chaos would ensue. I also understand that in a massive exercise such as a crash vaccination programme there would be variations in supply that would leave some areas short and others over-supplied.

But if there are differences in the speed with which patients in one general practice surgery are vaccinated versus those in another within the same town, this will eventually lead to people disregarding the standing instruction not to contact the practice in an attempt to find out what’s going on. That would not be welcome among hard-pressed primary care centres.

In the absence of definitive information at a local level on the progress of the vaccination effort, one can only speculate that even within small geographical areas, the pace of vaccination is also variable. In some parts, it would seem, they’re down to the over-65s. In others they’re still getting through the over-70s or even the over-75s. That would be understandable, since each area most likely has a slightly different demographic.

So I’m not jumping up and down at this point. Yet I also have an uneasy feeling about the fact that there are two potential routes to the vaccine. I will either be contacted by NHS England, or by my local GP practice. But what determines the route? And how can I be sure that there isn’t some data cock-up that has led to me falling between the two stools? This concern partly stems from a worry that in a programme so hastily put together, data could be the weakest link.

Such anxieties perhaps stem from a second area of cognitive dissonance. Most of us are no longer used to queuing up for things. Seventy years ago, we would have been quite happy to accept that we have to wait our turn without being given much information about when our turn will actually come. Nowadays we’re a bit like drivers in a traffic jam stretching way beyond the horizon, and for which there is no explanation. Frustration can lead to anger, because we have no idea why we’re held up.

We’ve grown used to Amazon telling us precisely when our delivery will arrive. When people come to fix stuff in our homes we usually get a window of time on a given day for the appointment. When we contact a call centre we’re told how many people are ahead of us in the queue to be dealt with. But with government, which is driven by no commercial imperative to manage our expectations, it’s often a different story. It will be when it will be, and you should be grateful when it happens.

Not that I’m really complaining. To set up such a massive undertaking in a very short time is something of a miracle. Giving a first dose to ten million people in six weeks is an amazing achievement.

However, for those of us who are far from hesitant, and whose arms are at the ready, a little more attention to communications on the progress of the programme at a granular level would be helpful.

The last thing we need at this stage is resentment instead of celebration.

From → Business, Politics, Social, UK

2 Comments
  1. Report from U.S.A., at the far edge of the earth.
    I live in a “blue” state, and the governor not only made a half-hearted run for President in 2016, it was based on anti-Trump. That endeared the Gov to the Pres, of course.
    Of course, the run out of the vaccine deliveries was not smooth anywhere as the country was not dealt with as a unit.
    We got notification (some of us) that we could register to be put on a list for the shot. All my friends and I did. Then, …
    nothing.
    After a couple of weeks of silence, a trio of people in my local social group got called and got their first shots. That encouraged the rest of us to try to contact the Health Department to see where we were on the list. The phone numbers given either rang and rang with no answer, or buzzed as engaged, or worst of all, seemed to be answered but then the connection would be cut.
    So, we resorted to asking through Email. I found out, after three tries, that I was number 999 (though I prefer to think of it upside down) but while interesting that was not particularly helpful.
    Then the local weekly announced that there were 3000 on the list. That helped a bit. Then it was made public that the local deliverers of the inoculations had filled out forms incorrectly– that led to the State sending our next supply elsewhere. Immediately after that we got the news that the replacement supply that had been expected within days was nowhere to be found.
    Turned out that Trump had left booby traps. Most “blue” states were not on the delivery lists at all.
    Then finally the notification that millions of doses that the Trump administration said they had ready to ship did not even exist.
    Today I was talking with a friend in another part of the state and we were whinging about the lack of information and transparency, not to mention thought processes.
    Within minutes of hanging up on that conversation, she got a call giving her the time and place to get her shot. An hour or so later, I got my call. Tomorrow at 1:35 P.M., second shot same time on March 2.
    I’m very pleased to be moving along finally, despite all the unknowns, the unknowables, and the questions.

    Hang on. We’ll get there.

    • Delighted to hear that, and great to hear from you! I had my shot shortly after the post. Thoughts post-shots about to come.. Stay well. S

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