Both the Broward County, Fla., COVID vaccination system and my 80-year-old parents had to be manipulated in order to get them vaccinated on January 8. And trust me, my parents were not as tough as manipulating the very broken vaccination system in Broward County, but tougher than even experiencing my children at their worst during the “terrible twos.” While I have little advice for parents with small kids other than showing love and patience, I do have advice for Florida officials on immediately improving the vaccination system to get us to immunity in our neighborhoods, churches, stores, schools and workplaces faster, safer, and more effectively than the current process. For this, we have to look no further than our own election process, system, and locations and apply it to the vaccination process. Here’s how:
Local Herd Immunity = Local Herd Vaccine
Herd immunity has been thrown out as a goal with one side saying we achieve it by the herd getting sick and immune; we're seeing that theory play out by those Americans who refuse to wear masks and take risks that will very likely cause them to get sick and yes, possibly immune. The problem with this, of course, is COVID has an extremely high, almost indiscriminate death rate, especially among those over 65. The disease also provides an unknown time for immunity to those who survive the virus and still to be determined longterm damage to lungs, hearts, brains and other vital organs.
The other approach to herd immunity now available to us is via vaccine, but the current approach of a few here and a few there across "herds of the human species" will take many months if not years to implement, especially in counties and states the size of Broward and Florida.
This is why we have to look at the voting system of neighborhood polling places, staff, volunteers, and voter records to start and expand the vaccines.
The Case for Using Neighborhood Voting Places as Vaccine Locations
In order to achieve the mass immunity to return life to normal, we need to turn to our longheld and near flawless voting system and apply it to the vaccination system. The definition of a "herd" is typically one of an animal species who congregate and live together in a confined and common geographic area. Taking this understanding, we have to start vaccinations in local communities versus the current scattershot approach of widespread vaccinations across large swaths of land and population where a few here and there are vaccinated. By charging our local national guards to work with the local election officials, we can tap existing neighborhood voting centers in churches, schools, and community centers to become vaccination centers. Even by starting with those most vulnerable, namely people over 65, we can concentrate vaccines by neighborhoods, geographically-concentrated populations or herds and in time fully and more quickly reopen public spaces.
If we confine the vaccines to those citizens who live in a voting district served by their neighborhood polling-turned-vaccine centers, we can get a majority vaccinated within herds, not the current process of a very small minority across herds, which leaves many more vulnerable.
How Voting Places Could Work as Vaccine Centers
The great news about our near enviable voting system process is that we already have a network of locations, cubicles, equipment, voter flow logistics, paid staff, trained volunteers, and local medical reserve corps that can be deployed to manage those coming for vaccines. Many, starting with the elderly, are already familiar with their voting locations, making access by foot or car easy and less confusing than unknown, far-flung locations currently in place. If we also deploy a small portion of local military or national guard troops to each vaccination center, we can provide equipment and medical resources to distribute, store, guard, and administer vaccines sent to local neighborhood vaccine locations.
A Rolling and Expanding System to Distribute Vaccines
Florida is prioritizing inoculations of citizens over 65 and those most vulnerable to death by COVID. Currently, vaccines are greatly limited in supply, but are expected to quickly grow in volume. Even still, Broward County and Florida have enacted a ridiculous “appointment system” (browardcovidvaccine.com) that is constantly crashing, only allows you to secure appointments for one person at a time versus a couple or household who qualify, and rarely allows you to complete the appointment even after repeatedly submitting the information required.
For instance, I was only able to make my dad an appointment, but failed to do so with my mom who lives in the same household. This makes no sense. (I sent them both to my dad’s appointment without telling them and through the grace of God and good luck, I got them both inoculated, but not without tremendous stress or sleepless nights.)
Instead, local health and voting officials can examine the demographics of the county and first open vaccination centers at polling locations that serve the largest number of those that qualify based on voter rolls, starting with those over 65 and expanding from there (birthdates are required in Broward County). While few polling centers would open at first as vaccination centers, more can open quickly as more vaccines become available. The end result will be getting the herds of the most vulnerable vaccinated from the inside-out versus the impossible outside-in approach being deployed now. Our neighborhoods can return to normal much more quickly.
Voter Verification, Validation, and “Look Up” Database
Rather than creating or using yet another failed system to make appointments or track vaccines, the Broward and state election voting systems are already in place to be slightly modified to validate, verify age, create appointments (which is only temporary until vaccines are widespread) and track those seeking inoculations. A vast majority of our prioritized elderly and other citizen populations are already registered to vote. Voter look-up systems in Florida and elsewhere that are free to the public require name and birthday to give information on voter status, mail-in vote requests, and status of vote counts by individual. Even if a citizen is not naturalized or a registered voter but lives in a polling district with a center now open for vaccinations, we can simply ask for name, address, and birthdate on their IDs/driver’s licenses/health insurance cards to ascertain and verify qualification for a vaccine when they show up at the vaccine center — exactly how the current vaccine system works in Broward. With a few tweaks, the current voter system can securely serve as a tracking system for those who have received vaccinations and require follow-up, but are not registered to vote. And to state for emphasis, a citizen does not have to be registered to vote or be pressured to register in order to receive a vaccine, but it does present the opportunity to get more citizens registered, an unintended, but beautiful outcome to strengthen our democracy along with our health.
Our democracy and system of voting is the most advanced in modern democracies and has led the rest of the world by example. We now have a very strong, structured way to achieve cross-country immunity via vaccines starting with our local neighborhoods. For centuries our voting system has worked, been modernized and now, is ready to tackle the vaccination challenge that faces our country in crisis. If leveraged, our election system will help bring an end to this pandemic in very short order.
Michael Kelley is a resident of Pompano Beach, Fla., and Provincetown, Mass.