The vaccine rollout is off to a rocky start everywhere

Countries are facing challenges at every step of the way

Today's expression: Make arrangements
Explore more: Lesson #332
January 25, 2021:

The biggest vaccination effort in world history is underway. But with that, of course, comes a host of problems, and vaccinations haven’t even begun in the developing world yet. Progress is slow and below initial expectations, but there’s still some reasons for optimism. Plus, learn what it means to “make arrangements.”

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Vaccination has begun…inconsistently

Lesson summary

Hi there, here we go once again for Plain English, this time lesson number 332. I’m Jeff; JR is the producer; and the full lesson is online at PlainEnglish.com/332.

Coming up today: it’s starting. Health care workers, seniors, and people with chronic conditions are being vaccinated against COVID-19. But the rollout has been anything but smooth in the rich world, and the developing world is still trying to determine what vaccines to get and how to get them. The expression is “make arrangements”. And we have a quote of the week.

Vaccination off to a slow start

The biggest vaccination effort in world history is underway. It hasn’t gone perfectly so far, but there are reasons for optimism.

Let’s start with the difficulties. The first vaccines approved by strict regulators were the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines; they were approved in December by the US and the UK. The first countries to get these vaccines were mostly rich countries that placed initial orders. There have been logistical stumbles out of the gate. Both Britain and the US have not been able to get the doses into enough arms. By mid-January, the US had delivered only about a third of the vaccines that had been shipped to delivery locations. France and the Netherlands had barely begun.

A second difficulty is the approach. Not every country has prioritized urgency in getting its population vaccinated. France, for example, requires that people give written consent to be vaccinated five days before receiving the shot. While getting consent will build support in a country skeptical of vaccination, the five-day waiting period is slowing down delivery.

Developing countries have different challenges. For them, the first problem is getting their hands on the vaccine. Most developing countries will not be able to get the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines in 2021 because richer countries have bought up all the supplies and because they require careful handling.

But there are other options. A third vaccine by Oxford University and AstraZeneca will soon be available; this vaccine is easier to distribute because it doesn’t require complicated refrigeration. It’s also much cheaper and easier to manufacture, so it can be produced at many locations around the world. But each production location must be certified, and only two of the nine production locations have been approved to begin. Production of this vaccine, then, is not getting off to the fastest possible start.

Geopolitics is also involved. China and Russia have developed vaccines that they did not submit to the world’s regulatory bodies for approval. They both accelerated approval, prioritizing speed over widespread, transparent testing. A vaccine developed in India has received approval from India’s government, but many people warn the approval was given before extensive stage three trial data was released. That doesn’t mean the vaccines are dangerous or ineffective, only that they hadn’t been subjected to the kind of scrutiny that other vaccines had been.

That inevitably leads to political struggles, as developing countries have to choose whether to take a risk with the vaccines from Russia and China or to wait for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. Differing political opinions can lower overall acceptance of vaccination among the population.

The final problem comes from Mother Nature herself: new mutations of the coronavirus discovered in South Africa and the United Kingdom spread much faster than previous strains, adding to the urgency of vaccination.

Those are the challenges; nobody said this would be easy. But there are also reasons for optimism.

The new strain is spreading much more quickly than before, but countries are adapting. The UK, Germany, and the US will be modifying the dosage of their early vaccines to speed up vaccination. Instead of giving each participant two doses a few weeks apart, the new approach is to give as many people the first dose as possible, and wait three months or more to administer the second dose. The first dose of the vaccine provides some protection, just not as much as two doses. This new approach means that each vaccinated person will receive less protection against the coronavirus, but the population as a whole benefits because more people get that initial protection.

This shows flexibility and responsiveness to the immediate need to get as much coverage as possible. The results from the UK, Germany and the US will provide valuable data to other countries.

There is also good news about the Sinovac vaccine from China. Stage three trials in Brazil showed it was 78 percent effective. In Bahrain, trials showed another vaccine from China, Sinopharm, is over 80 percent effective. This should boost public acceptance of these two vaccines.

Finally, COVAX offers hope that all countries will get vaccine doses in 2021, regardless of income level. The initiative is sponsored by the World Health Organization and has already arranged for 2 billion doses that can be distributed to 190 countries. COVAX is continuing to make arrangements for more doses with vaccine makers.

Higher-income countries may boost their donations to COVAX soon. Before any vaccine was proven effective, rich countries placed orders with several vaccine makers. That means they have reserved more doses than they need; Canada has reserved enough doses to vaccinate its whole population five times. It’s likely that rich countries will release their reserved but unneeded doses to COVAX after they start delivering vaccines to their populations.

It’s important never to underestimate the possibility that politicians will make grave errors. And Mother Nature may yet deliver another unexpected blow. But the world has many vaccines to choose from; the rich world is committed to providing doses to every country, regardless of income; and no vaccine has had to be recalled. Yes, the rollout has been imperfect, but there is still a lot to be thankful for.

Web resources

Hope your 2021 is off to a good start. If improving English is among your new year’s resolutions, then remember Plain English can help. Our web site has free transcripts of every lesson plus an extra word or phrase from the lesson that I don’t have time to talk about. I haven’t mentioned this in a while, but it’s called “Learn the Lingo.” And it’s an informal word or phrase that I use that I don’t think is worth explaining in detail, but I think you’d like to know. That’s on each lesson web page, and it’s free, right alongside the transcripts.

If you sign up as a free member on the site, you’ll get your very own home page with easy links to explore all our old lessons. From the home page, just click “Join” and sign up for a free membership and you’ll get all of that with every lesson. PlainEnglish.com.

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Expression: Make arrangements