Romney Urges Sweeping Vaccine Plan as U.S. Surpasses 20 Million COVID-19 Cases

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -
A health-care worker treats a patient infected with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on Friday at United Memorial Medical Center in Houston, Texas. (Reuters/Callaghan O’Hare)

Senator Mitt Romney urged the government to immediately enlist veterinarians, combat medics and others in an all-out national campaign to administer coronavirus vaccinations and slow a surging rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths.

Romney called for greater action as the government fell far short of its goal of vaccinating 20 million Americans with the first of two required doses by the end of 2020.

As of Friday, the first day of 2021, an estimated 2.8 million vaccine doses have actually been given, mostly to front-line health-care workers as well as staff and residents of nursing facilities.

“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,” Romney said in a statement.

The United States has lost more than 345,000 lives from COVID-19 to date, equal to one in every 950 Americans, and ranks 16th in national per capita coronavirus deaths in the world.

Meanwhile, the tally of known U.S. infections reached another sober milestone on Friday, surpassing 20 million confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic, and the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients exceeded 125,000, setting a daily record once more.

California, the most populous state with 40 million residents, has become a leading U.S. flashpoint of the pandemic despite some of the nation’s toughest restrictions on social gatherings and business activities.

The soaring COVID-19 case load has pushed hospitals in and around Los Angeles in particular to their limits, filling emergency rooms, intensive care units, ambulance bays and morgues beyond capacity, and creating staff shortages.

Briefing reporters on Thursday, Cathy Chidester, director of the Los Angeles County Emergency Medical Services Agency, called the situation a “hidden disaster,” not plainly visible to the public.

Medical experts attribute the worsening pandemic in recent weeks to the arrival of colder weather and the failure of many Americans to abide by public health warnings and requirements to stay home and avoid unnecessary travel over the year-end holiday season.

The recent emergence of a more transmissible variant of the coronavirus in the United States could make a swift rollout of immunizations all the more critical.

Romney called for deploying veterinarians, emergency medical workers and medical students to help deliver vaccinations and set up inoculation clinics at sites such as school buildings that are largely empty because of the pandemic.

He also recommended establishing a clear order for Americans nationwide to receive their shots according to priority groups and birthdays, while welcoming other ideas from medical professionals. Prioritizing vaccine recipients is currently being handled state by state.

Romney said the country needs to acknowledge the current vaccination plan “isn’t working” and is “woefully behind,” and that leaders must find ways to quickly bolster capacity.

“It was unrealistic to assume that the health-care workers already overburdened with COVID care could take on a massive vaccination program,” Romney said.

The leading U.S. infectious disease specialist, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said on Wednesday he was confident of overcoming early glitches in the vaccine campaign, saying America could still achieve enough collective immunity through vaccinations to regain “some semblance of normality” by autumn 2021.

Biden has vowed to use the Defense Production Act to boost the vaccination program and to send mobile vaccination units to help deliver shots in under-served areas.