Hoffman's Houston
"You want fries with that vaccine?"

Ken Hoffman serves up a fast-food solution to the COVID-19 vaccine headache

Hoffman serves up a fast-food solution to the COVID vaccine headache

Chick-fil-A drive-thru girl at store
We could learn a lot about vaccine distribution from Chick-fil-A, Hoffman notes.  Chick-fil-A/Facebook

Our government had almost a year to plan the rollout of COVID-19 vaccine — and this is what we get? Each state has its own disjointed strategy of administering vaccine, and last week, the Centers for Disease Control director admitted that the federal government did not know how much vaccine was available in the U.S.

“I can’t tell you how much vaccine we have, and if I can’t tell it to you,” he said, “then I can’t tell it to the governors.”

Millions of Americans are frustrated because they can’t get on a waiting list for the vaccine, and even when they do there’s no guarantee there’ll be a shot waiting for them when they roll up their sleeve. 

Across the country, families have a spread sheet keeping track of where vaccine may be available, phone numbers and websites, and how many places each family member already has submitted an application.

Scientists did their job developed a vaccine for the pandemic in record-breaking, warp-speed time. The drug manufacturers did their job testing and producing millions and millions of doses of the vaccine. And then, it fell to the government to get the vaccine into people’s arms.

That’s when the system broke down, with certain communities being underserved, wealthy people jumping the line, unrealistic and unfulfilled expectations, states not knowing how much vaccine they’ll receive week to week and chaos in the madhouse.

Scientists say it will require 70 to 80 percent of Americans to be vaccinated before the country can achieve herd immunity against COVID-19. The government has done such a poor job of selling the need for people to get vaccinated that reportedly half of Americans either say no thanks or we’ll wait to see if the vaccine really works.

Our tax dollars at work, our lives at stake.

Here’s where the government screwed up rolling out vaccine: it got involved.

A couple of weeks ago, as CultureMap reported, the Houston Health Department held a “mega” vaccine event at Minute Maid Park. People were instructed to go online and seek an appointment. About 5,000 appointments were secured. People were told to write their name and confirmation number on a piece of white paper and present it before entering the ballpark.

The health department forgot one little detail. They failed to check if the people entering Minute Maid Park actually had appointments. They never checked driver’s licenses or anything. Once people got inside to get their shots, and saw it was a free-for-all, they called other people — c’mon down. 

Minute Maid Park ran out of vaccine well before the scheduled quitting time and left a long line of people with confirmed appointments out on the street, with a promise that the city will catch them later.

A drive-thru solution
Here’s the solution: the government should turn over the entire national vaccination program to McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, and other fast food giants. They know how to get burgers in stomachs, they’ll get shots in arms.

McDonald’s has about 14,000 restaurants in America, in rich parts of town, economically disadvantaged neighborhoods, practically everywhere. Burger King has 7,300 restaurants, Wendy’s 6,700, Taco Bell, 6,500. You can be on a lonely stretch of highway in Texas, in the middle of nowhere, 50 miles from the nearest city, and you’ll see a sign: “Dairy Queen 2 miles.” (The Blizzard of the Month is Red Velvet Cake, FYI.)

There are 204,000 fast-food restaurants in the U.S., many of them open 24/7, most with a drive-through. “Roll up your sleeve, here’s your COVID-19 shot, now please pull up to the next window for your Baconator and fries.”

A fast-food chain like McDonald’s has dozens of product warehouses across the country. They use a fleet of 18-wheeler trucks to deliver supplies several times a week to their thousands of restaurants. Fast-food chains know how to deliver product safely and on time. They’ve mastered logistics and distribution over decades, since the first White Castle opened in Wichita in 1921.

I’ve never pulled into McDonald’s at 3 am and heard, “Sorry, we’re out of fries.” McDonald’s and the other big chains are obsessive about efficiency, dependability, safety, and speed. They get it done.

When you visit a Burger King drive-thru you’re in and out in a few minutes. The government? When you need to renew your driver’s license in person, you might want to bring lunch, something to read, and pajamas. “Now serving No. 264C,” and you’re holding 563Q.

North Carolina state treasurer Dale Folwell knows the score. North Carolina has been one of the slowest states in administering shots. Last week, after state health officials apologized for failing to deliver the promised number of doses, and one vaccine site had to cancel 10,000 confirmed appointments, Folwell suggested letting Chick-fil-A guide the distribution of vaccine.

“There’s nobody that has more interest in or knowledge of how to distribute products than the people I saw last night at Chick-fil-A,” Sowell said. “I mean, this can’t be that complicated.”