December 18, 2020 – An opinion piece published in BMJ by Nina Schwalbe in the Heilbrunn Department of Population and Family Health at Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, calls for a national vaccine strategy now that COVID-19 vaccines are available. Schwalbe writes that a lack of clarity on a distribution plan sets unrealistic expectations among the public and could undermine public trust. But even with a clearly defined strategy in place, vaccinating hundreds of millions of Americans will not be easy. Read the full article here.

Vaccines don’t deliver themselves,” notes Schwalbe, who is also a Principal Visiting Fellow at the United Nations University International Institute of Global Health. “Vaccines require a safe, trusted and accessible immunization system.”

To address the high covid-19 death rates in the medium to long term, Schwalbe recommends the following:  

  • Set realistic expectations on the role of vaccines in the COVID-19 response and communicate those clearly.  For example, given limited supply, the immediate focus seem to be to reduce mortality of individuals in high-risk groups and transmission in health care settings. It is not to reach herd immunity.
  • Call upon the Biden administration to enact a parallel commitment to universal health coverage to help protect those people vulnerable to underlying conditions, like diabetes and heart disease, that put them at risk of severe covid-19 disease in the first place.  
  • Work directly with communities to devise a plan that addresses their fears, and engages them to figure out the logistical challenges.