It has been almost a year since the last time the Washington DC Exhibition Center was selected to play a central role in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. At the end of April 2020, the hospitals were reaching their limits in view of the dramatic increase in the number of infections.
Field hospitals have therefore been set up in many cities as a precaution. In the American capital, the choice fell on the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in the heart of the city center, up to 1200 Covid-19 patients should be cared for there if necessary. The emergency never occurred, not even in the second wave last fall.
Now the convention center is playing a central role again: since Monday, it has served the city’s citizens as one of the mass vaccination centers that are currently opening across the United States. Sometimes there are huge sports arenas like in Baltimore in the neighboring state of Maryland or in the metropolis of Atlanta (Georgia), sometimes convention centers like in Washington.
Thousands of syringes are said to be poked into the upper arms of Americans willing to vaccinate every day – and usually also on weekends – at such central locations. In this way, the longed-for herd immunity should be achieved as soon as possible, with which a bit of normalcy can return to daily life.
[Jeden Donnerstag die wichtigsten Entwicklungen aus Amerika direkt ins Postfach – mit dem Newsletter “Washington Weekly” unserer USA-Korrespondentin Juliane Schäuble. Hier geht es zur kostenlosen Anmeldung.]
That could actually happen faster in the US than many expected. America, which has long stood out as the disaster country with the most Covid deaths (more than 524,000 people in this country have already died as a result of an infection – one fifth of the officially registered deaths worldwide), is now setting vaccines at a pace that many Europeans are about envy.
Since the vaccination program started on December 14, 2020, more than 85 million vaccine doses have been administered, reaching 16.7 percent of the population. Over two million syringes are now being given out every day, and the number is rising. Even if there is often too little vaccine available locally and, as in other countries, the technology tends to break down when registering.
The vaccination campaign is going so well that US President Joe Biden has already promised to have enough vaccine on hand by the end of May to vaccinate every adult in America. The situation will only improve with the new aid package, which provides billions of dollars for the expansion of the vaccination campaign.
For example, the fact that it’s so quick is because Americans can now use three vaccines: Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson. For the latter, which has just been approved, one vaccination is sufficient, the other two must be given twice. So far, people in the United States have been able to get vaccinated in clinics, community centers, large supermarket chains and in some drugstores with affiliated pharmacies.
More and more creatively, however, there is now a search for ways of being able to vaccinate as many as possible in an uncomplicated manner. In rural areas in particular, drive-through is becoming increasingly common withdraw cash without getting out of the car.
85 million people have already been vaccinated
Prior registration by phone, online or in person is usually required. Those in charge emphasize that this will continue to be the case with the new large centers. However, it is often not precisely checked whether someone really has a claim – for example because of previous illnesses, old age or because their job is “essential”, i.e. is viewed as necessary for the functioning of society.
First and foremost, health workers, but also supermarket salespeople, daycare supervisors, electricians and bus drivers, and then also journalists in a graduated form, are considered “essential”. Often it is enough if the claim is stated – according to the motto: Every vaccinated person is good news for society as a whole.
The mass vaccination centers in Washington and other cities are designed to help better reach disadvantaged populations who are particularly hard hit by the pandemic. In Atlanta, where the Afro-American community suffers greatly from Corona, 6000 doses are to be inoculated every day over a period of eight weeks – of course also on weekends.
The US government supports the state and others through its disaster management agency, Fema, among other things. The fact that the USA is doing so well when it comes to vaccination is not only due to the current President Joe Biden. His predecessor Donald Trump, who often publicly downplayed the dangers of the pandemic, had also made early and aggressive efforts to ensure that his country could get vaccines as quickly as possible with his “Operation Warp Speed”.
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Biden then intensified this and declared even before he was sworn in that there would be no more important issue for his government for the time being. When the convention center in Washington opens its doors to vaccinators this Monday, they will be given the newly approved active ingredient from Johnson & Johnson.
In the United States, too, there are times when one vaccine is preferred over the other. But the new government is doing a lot to gain trust.
For example, one comes across Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top virologist whom Trump had marginalized and who is now allowed to do what he has mostly done in the past few decades under Biden: to provide objective and clearly understandable information about the dangers and how to deal with an epidemic. And according to him, the active ingredient from Johnson & Johnson also protects “100 percent” from a fatal course of an infection.
Editor’s note: In an earlier version of this text, Anthony Fauci’s doctorate was quoted with “Dr.” abbreviated, which was based on the sometimes common spelling in the USA. It is misleading in German. We have adapted it accordingly.