There’s a life and death race underway with 7.7 billion people watching, hoping for an end to this catastrophic, world-wide pandemic. The virus has impacted 213 countries and territories with 22 million cases and 777,755 deaths (Aug. 13).

When it became apparent that many COVID-19 victims were asymptomatic — no visible symptoms and unwitting spreaders, there was no lasting preventative or totally migrating option other than a vaccine. The continuing loss of life in the United States, India, Africa, and Latin and South Americas, coupled with the resurgence of the virus in once ravaged Europe, has brought a deadline date of yesterday for the world-wide dissemination of a vaccine.

Dan King photo

Two dozen creditable research labs and drug companies are scrambling to produce the effective and safe vaccines against SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19. What first began as lab experiments with Maine’s Littlest Soldiers, the Jackson Lab’s genetically engineered mice, moved on to monkeys and hamsters, and then limited human trials.

Doctors Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx have been encouraged by the positive, ahead-of-time findings from these early labs and trials. The world stock markets, usually the harbingers in struggles between hype and truth, have responded with optimism and record-setting highs, despite all the economic gloom and uncertainty.

The final and decisive challenge for the research labs and their corporate partners are the Phase 3 trials, where in each, 30,000 volunteers will be inoculated — half with the vaccine the other half with a placebo. Searching for a diversity in these trials, a heavy emphasis has been given to the groups which have been hit the hardest during the past six months.

The world-wide demand and urgent need for the vaccine has led the U.S. government to launch Operation Warp Speed. There’s been unprecedented cutting of regulatory red tape and the U.S. has put almost $10 billion into accelerated testing and early manufacturing, so a vaccine can be dispensed immediately if final approval is granted.

Being a life-time believer in Murphy’s Law, thankfully some mid-level executive in the U.S. Department of Human Services began waving a red flag, repeatedly it turns out, and asking, “How about the billions of syringes we’re going to need to deliver this vaccine?” Give that bureaucrat a medal.

Complicating the future distribution is that we don’t know right now whether the vaccine will need one or two shots to be effective. We couldn’t be so lucky that it would be as easy to administer as Dr. Sabin’s 1950s polio vaccine which was two drops squirted directly into a child’s mouth.

We’re going to need billions of syringes (there’s 7.7 billion of us), and the U. S. government, using the emergency powers of the Korean War Procurement Act, launched a crash program for manufacturing syringes.

When it comes to who will be at the head of the line for the vaccine, there’s a lot of questions that have to be answered first. I’m afraid that I’m about to wear out the question mark tab on my keyboard.

During the past five months, the U.S.’s response has been guidelines, shared funding, and a lot of conflicting confusion under the federal umbrella with the decisions to shut down or reopen, to test or not to test, and masks or no masks made by the individual state governors. Should that shared structure continue or should our country’s vaccination program be financed, organized, and run solely by our federal government?

If it’s federal, should the vaccine allotments be determined by geography — East and West coasts or Midwest and South (blue and red states), proportional population, number of total virus deaths per 100,000 residents, or by the percentage level of those recently testing positive for the virus (some states are testing higher than 20 percent).

Who should make those vaccine allotment decisions: the president, a select commission of doctors, scientists, and economists, Fauci and Birx, or the free market? Should the federal government pick up the full costs of the vaccine distribution program? Do the states have a shared financial responsibility? Should we begin holding virtual benefit raising concerts and setting up Go Fund Me pages to raise the necessary funds?

Will the vaccine be free for us and our fellow world citizens? Should their governments also ante up? Both health and life insurance companies will be direct beneficiaries if the vaccine is successfully deployed. What financial contributions will they make if their policy holders opt for the vaccine? What compensation should the researchers and drug companies expect for their testing and manufacturing successful vaccines? I used companies because it’s going to take multiple companies and their vaccines to meet the world’s needs.

Who will be allowed to give the vaccine shots: hospitals, schools, urgent care clinics, doctors’ offices, public health clinics, pharmacies, university clinics and jail and prison medical personnel? Will there be home vaccine kits?

Who do you think should be at the head of the line for their vaccine shots? At the end of the line? I would hope that we’d all agree, given their valiant fight against COVID-19 and their continuing risk, that the ER and ICU nurses and doctors, EMTs, hospital workers and all doctors should be the first in line?

I’ve listed alphabetically another 17 categories — demographics, occupational, race, and ethnic, for you to review, ponder, and determine who would be your picks for the head of the line (11 picks in order of your importance). Email me, address below, your choices and I’ll include the results two weeks from now on Friday, Sept. 11.

ALPHABETICAL LISTINGS: African-Americans; Assisted living residents and staff; Children younger than 12; College students; Elected government officials —national, state and local; and government workers, national, state, and local?

CONTINUING: Hispanics; Front-line workers — grocery stores, food processing, truck drivers, etc.; the military; Native Americans; police, fire and rescue personnel; and postal workers?

ALSO: Professional athletes and celebrities; those 65 and older; teachers — elementary and high school; Teenagers –13 to 19; and lastly, Underlying health conditions, immuno-comprimised?

We’re hoping that somewhere on the federal and state levels that plans are being discussed and then being drawn up answering these who, what, and where”questions and they just haven’t gotten around to discussing them with us, the folks who’ll be paying all the bills. It’s also very clear that there’s not going to be enough vaccine to go around at first, so someone is going to have to address who’s going to be at the head of the vaccine line.

It might as well be us in our three towns, so make your own 11 choices for the head of the line and email your choices to me, [email protected]

I’d also enjoy hearing the overall reasoning you exercised in determining your choices. If you’d like to pick which group of the 17 listed would be your choice for last in line and why you placed them to be the last to receive the vaccine.

Tom Murphy is a former history teacher and state representative. He is a Kennebunk Landing resident and can be reached at [email protected]

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