SALT LAKE CITY — U.S. Senator Mitt Romney released a statement Friday saying the United States' COVID-19 vaccination program is "woefully behind" and the lack of a comprehensive federal vaccination plan "is as incomprehensible as it is inexcusable."
Romney suggested US leaders should learn from others with experience in carrying out widespread vaccination programs and enlisting a broader range of qualified personnel, including retired medical professionals and veterinarians, to administer vaccines.
“This needs to be organized like any major event or any major undertaking and so far that hasn’t happened," Romney said in an interview with FOX 13 Friday. "Our current president, as well as the next president, has the potential to light a fire under the CDC and insist they put together a plan, not just to get vaccination or vaccines to the states, but to actually get those vaccines into the arms of people who want to receive one and that hasn’t happened yet.”
Read Senator Romney's full statement below:
“The rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines is a tribute to the NIH, the FDA and to the professionals in the pharmaceutical industry. But unlike the development of the vaccines, the vaccination process itself is falling behind. It was unrealistic to assume that the health care workers already overburdened with Covid care could take on a massive vaccination program. So too is the claim that CVS and Walgreens will save the day: they don’t have excess personnel available to inoculate millions of Americans. Nor are they equipped to deal with the rare but serious reactions which may occur. Doctor offices are well-suited but the rate of patient throughput in doctor offices is predictably slow.
“That comprehensive vaccination plans have not been developed at the federal level and sent to the states as models is as incomprehensible as it is inexcusable.
“I have experience organizing a major logistical event but nothing on the scale of what is called for today. Nor do I have any relevant medical or public health experience. But I know that when something isn’t working, you need to acknowledge reality and develop a plan—particularly when hundreds of thousands of lives are at stake.
“Here’s one idea. It undoubtedly has flaws, but I offer it not as the answer but as an example of the kind of options that ought to be brainstormed in Washington and in every state.
“First, call on people who have carried out widespread vaccination programs elsewhere or in the past. Learn from their experience.
“Second, enlist every medical professional, retired or active, who is not currently engaged in the delivery of care. This could include veterinarians, combat medics and corpsmen, medical students, EMS professionals, first responders, and many others who could be easily trained to administer vaccines. Congress has already appropriated funding for states so that these professionals can be fully compensated.
“Establish vaccination sites throughout the state, perhaps in every school. Make sure that a medical professional is in each school building to be able to respond to a reaction that might occur.
“Schedule vaccinations according to a person’s priority category and birthdate: e.g., people in group A with a January first birthday would be assigned a specific day to receive their vaccination.
“Public health professionals will easily point out the errors in this plan—so they should develop better alternatives based on experience, modeling and trial. The current program is woefully behind despite the fact that it encompasses the two easiest populations to vaccinate: frontline workers and long-term care residents. Unless new strategies and plans are undertaken, the deadly delays may be compounded as broader and more complex populations are added. We are already behind; urgent action now can help us catch up.”
The Utah Department of Health agreed with Romney in part, adding that they are working to speed up vaccine administration.
"We agree with Sen. Romney's assessment that the initial rollout of vaccines has been slower than we would have liked," the department wrote in a statement. "However, we have made significant strides this week as larger distribution channels, like local health departments and pharmacy chains that are vaccinating in long-term care facilities, have opened up."
Dr. Jay Jacobson, an emeritus professor of infectious disease and medical ethics at the University of Utah School of Medicine, said there is no need to panic.
“This shouldn’t be seen as the kind of urgent crisis where if people are not vaccinated this week, they’re likely to die. That’s a huge exaggeration,” he said.
Jacobson says there are still public health questions yet to be answered regarding the administration of the vaccine and wants the public to remember that the health recommendations should still be followed while many wait for the vaccine.
“In terms of whether we’re ahead or behind, we’re obviously ahead," he added. "Not just in terms of what was proposed, which was maybe a January or February release of vaccines, but we’re ahead historically of the development of a vaccine for an infectious disease — a process that has taken, in some cases, decades, was measured in months for this one.”