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Editorial: Patience, caution in wait for vaccine

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At the dawn of 2021, the rapid development of the coronavirus vaccines by multiple laboratories added an optimistic glow to forecasts of sunnier days in the not-too-distant future.

Unfortunately, things are looking a bit less rosy now. It’s abundantly clear that supplies of the vaccine doses are running well behind President Joe Biden’s aggressive timeline for distribution: 100 million people inoculated in his administration’s first 100 days.

This sputtering in the federal vaccine supply lines is distressing on multiple levels: Most people are desperate for progress toward a semblance of normalcy and now will have to wait a bit longer.

And there’s some anxiety, as well, with the advent of more transmissible mutated variants of COVID-19. It has come down to a race between the virus and these eagerly awaited vaccines.

For Hawaii’s Department of Health, it has to be frustrating to get this bad news after standing up new hubs for distribution to seniors 75 and older. With its private health-care partners, the state also has set up an interface for making appointments.

Uncertainty reigns. On Tuesday, the allotment was forecast at only 17,375 doses — about 20,000 fewer than two weeks earlier — but that had jumped to 36,325 by Thursday, said DOH spokeswoman Janice Okubo. “It’s good news that those doses are coming in, but it’s impossible to plan and schedule with that kind of differential,” she said.

There is ample reason for frustration, too, with the just-departed administration of former President Donald Trump. The capacity for moving vaccines from production lines to warehouses and then to the states is dismally less than what the new crew had understood.

The bottom line: there is no federal stockpile on the order of what the Biden team expected, meaning that many states, including Hawaii, are not getting doses at a reliable pace.

There’s no getting around the facts: These are the rough waters that the new leadership at federal and state levels must navigate.

The most useful message state and federal authorities can communicate to the public is a request for patience — both in waiting for adequate doses to arrive at a reliable pace, and in continued adherence to the well-worn social-distancing, mask-wearing and hand-washing protocols.

On Thursday, Biden provided more details on his COVID-19 plans. In addition to better data tracking and public briefings — both needed components — here are some essential elements:

>> Increasing production by enlisting manufacturers in the effort through the Defense Production Act.

>> Creating more vaccine venues by adding centers and arranging for distribution through pharmacies.

>> Giving states better projections for amounts they will receive, enabling more efficient distribution planning.

>> Launching a national public education campaign to encourage more people to get vaccinated.

All of this will help to prime the pump for when two additional vaccine manufacturers are expected to come online, with federal emergency-use authorization, this spring: Johnson &Johnson and AstraZeneca. Unlike the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines now in use, neither of the emerging ones requires deep-freezing doses, and Johnson &Johnson has the added advantage of effectiveness with a single dose.

The Biden plan also puts some necessary emphasis on masking requirements for travel and on federal property. That will have to be the backstop for longer than most Americans had hoped.

But a commitment to the truth was one of the pledges the new president made in his inaugural address. And the truth about the coronavirus is that, vaccinated or not, people who let down their guard still will face an uncertain risk. Being careful must remain the watchword for the foreseeable future.

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