Editorial: Scoring points in blame game won't get more vaccine in arms

Posted January 15, 2021 5:00 a.m. EST

CBC Editorial: Friday, Jan. 15, 2021; Editorial #8626
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company.

Members of the General Assembly had an opportunity on Tuesday to address the challenge of assuring as many North Carolinians as possible receive COVID-19 vaccines as quickly as possible.

They missed the opportunity to get the state’s top health officials to say what was needed to do better. Instead, legislators choose to play politics.

Looking to chip into Gov. Roy Cooper’s popularity for his handling the coronavirus pandemic, the leaders of the General Assembly spent their time in a legislative oversight committee attacking, second guessing and berating the governor and Secretary of Human Resources Dr. Mandy Cohen for the vaccine rollout’s short comings.

Those actions left hollow the speechifying at Wednesday’s legislative session opening by Senate Leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore and their pledges to “find, develop and expand common ground” as well as “to put politics aside and create a state government that attracts success.”

While legislative leaders are saying one of the top priorities for early in the session will be dealing with the pandemic’s lingering impacts, there seems to be little evidence of cooperation and consensus with the Cooper administration.

The vaccine roll out has been far from perfect. The coordination between federal, state and local health officials could be – and we’re sure will and must be --- much improved.

North Carolina officials have had to struggle with incomplete and short notice from federal officials on the time and amount of vaccine deliveries.

Inadequate funding of state and local health services – even with the specifically appropriated federal COVID relief dollars -- has left these agencies short staffed, particularly when hands-on services are in such need.

Gauging success in vaccine distribution and administration can be challenging. There’s plenty of room to selectively pick a figure or ranking to suit a bias.

By one standard – total vaccines administered – North Carolina ranks 9th nationally among the states. More than 268,200 shots have been given, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But by another CDC standard, vaccines administered per 100,000 population, the state ranks 41st.

By still another measure – portion of distributed vaccine doses administered – the state ranks 37th. Certainly not great, but that’s up 11 places in the two days since legislators derisively pointed to a 48 th place ranking during the hearing.

State Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, chastised Cohen and the Cooper administration for relying on local agencies. He said these local agencies had a “problematic history” and DHHS failed to provide appropriate guidance.

While Cohen used the opportunity before the legislators to announce additional sites, in high population areas, to increase the rate of vaccinations, that brought little response from the legislators who were focused on criticism.

There was plenty of blame-placing, demands to “think outside the box” and criticism for managerial failures. Still, during the grilling, Cohen didn’t sidestep her responsibilities or accountability and directly answered the challenging and critical questions.

But there was no demand for Cohen to tell them if there was anything she thought was necessary to do better.

Legislators voiced their own opinions but avoided asking what steps she says her department – and those other state, local and non-government agencies involved in dealing with the pandemic – should take to do the job better. And, along with that, what resources would be necessary to make it happen.

As Cooper and Cohen have demonstrated since the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the solution to controlling and overcoming it is by knowledge of the facts and trusting the science. It is getting as many people as possible to behave in ways that slow the spread of the virus and providing the resources necessary to treat those who are infected and now, vaccinate the rest of us.

No one is keeping score in the blame game. It doesn’t cure an infection or stop the coronavirus spread.

It is cooperation, not competition, that must be the focus of all efforts to stop the spread and show North Carolina’s resilience to reopen the state and restart the economy.

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