Where's my shot? Why the COVID vaccine rollout is so challenging

CNET's Now What turns to a public health expert to answer pressing questions on vaccines.

Claire Reilly Former Principal Video Producer
Claire Reilly was a video host, journalist and producer covering all things space, futurism, science and culture. Whether she's covering breaking news, explaining complex science topics or exploring the weirder sides of tech culture, Claire gets to the heart of why technology matters to everyone. She's been a regular commentator on broadcast news, and in her spare time, she's a cabaret enthusiast, Simpsons aficionado and closet country music lover. She originally hails from Sydney but now calls San Francisco home.
Expertise Space, Futurism, Science and Sci-Tech, Robotics, Tech Culture Credentials
  • Webby Award Winner (Best Video Host, 2021), Webby Nominee (Podcasts, 2021), Gold Telly (Documentary Series, 2021), Silver Telly (Video Writing, 2021), W3 Award (Best Host, 2020), Australian IT Journalism Awards (Best Journalist, Best News Journalist 2017)
Claire Reilly
3 min read
Watch this: How do I get the COVID-19 vaccine? Your questions answered
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As the coronavirus pandemic rages on around the world, there's a light shining at the end of the tunnel. Vaccines for COVID-19 have been shown to be highly effective in protecting against serious illness and death, and will be key to getting out of this global crisis. 

But in the US, the approval of vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna is only half the battle. Health officials still need to roll out these vaccines across the country, distributing doses through a patchwork of different state and local health systems and ensuring shots get into the arms of Americans as quickly as possible.

Marcus Plescia is the chief medical officer for the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, the national organization representing more than 100,000 public health officials across the US, as well as the agencies they work for.

According to Plescia, getting the vaccine out to Americans is a huge task, involving nationwide logistics and aging public-health data systems. But though there are a number of factors getting in the way of a speedy rollout, he says there's one major issue that's hampered the early days of the vaccine program.

"The main bottleneck right now with the vaccine effort is the supply of the vaccine," Plescia told CNET. 

"We knew there was going to be limited supply to begin with ... but I think a lot of people are losing track of the fact that we've only got 40 or 50 million doses right now, and we've already promised it to more people than that."

One of the main pain points for Americans at the moment is working out when and where they'll be able to get the vaccine. Part of that is down to the lack of available doses, but the scale of the rollout across 50 states has also caused problems. 

According to Plescia, the federal government is responsible for buying the vaccine from suppliers and then distributing those doses to the states. The states then decide who gets vaccinated and in what order (largely based on guidelines provided by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), before distributing doses to local health officials. Local health authorities also need to be able to send information back up the chain about who's getting vaccinated and where more doses are needed. But those public-health data systems that're used to share that information aren't as effective as they could be.

Add to that vaccines that require ultracold refrigeration and the need for two doses, and the rollout has been slower than originally hoped.

But there are some good signs too. The Biden administration has increased its orders from Pfizer and Moderna, bringing the total count up to 600 million, and new vaccine candidates could be approved in the US soon. 

"I think by March, April, we should see significant changes," said Plescia. "First of all, there should be a lot more of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines available for people. And then both AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson are on the verge of bringing their vaccines in front of the Food and Drug Administration for approval ... at that point, I think everybody will realize things are going to get better."

Plescia shared more insights on the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, including how states are allocating vaccines, and the best ways to find information on appointments. You can check out what he has to say in the video above. 


Now What is a video interview series with industry leaders, celebrities and influencers that covers trends impacting businesses and consumers amid the "new normal." There will always be change in our world, and we'll be here to discuss how to navigate it all.   

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.