As Vice President Mike Pence sat for his COVID-19 vaccine on Friday morning, governor’s offices across the country were furious, confused as to why their states needed to receive far fewer doses of Pfizer than originally planned.
For months, states worked with the federal government to determine how many doses they would receive, where and when they would be distributed, and who would receive the vaccines first. Senior officials of Operation Warp Speed, a public-private partnership to speed up vaccine deployment, have touted the administration’s planning as a success, saying the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention ( CDC) had worked with states to make the distribution run smoothly.
But a few days after declaring an unambiguous triumph, things took a serious turn for the worse.
As vaccines moved from warehouses to hospitals across the country, officials in the states of Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Georgia and Washington state, among others, were told they would receive thousands of doses less than expected. . Officials in two states told the Daily Beast they would receive a total of 30% fewer vaccines than expected. And when officials approached the federal government for answers, they said they were greeted with more confusion.
The search for answers also widened the ranks of the Trump COVID task force, where key members ignored the reasons why there were discrepancies between the numbers initially released to states and the number of doses shipped. The task force did not meet to discuss the matter on Friday, according to people familiar with the matter, even as a second vaccine from Moderna received its own emergency use authorization.
The first signs of potential problems became visible during a conference call with the country’s governors earlier this week. In this regard, senior administration officials were optimistic about the distribution plans in place.
“As the president often says, so far everything is going well. Out of the door loud, ”said Vice President Pence, the COVID task force leader, referring to the initial rollout of doses from last weekend.
But elsewhere, during that call, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar took the time to stress the importance of accurate vaccine shipping schedules, noting that late shipments could mess up plans. vaccination because people needed the second dose 21 days after the first. “It’s a little more of a complex math problem,” he said, “then just saying, ‘Go ahead and put 40 million doses in December instead of 20 million.
Later in the call came an even clearer indication of the logistical complications. Governor Roy Cooper (DN.C.) said his state “still” had no confirmation on the number of doses of Pfizer vaccine for the second week of allocation. “It is really essential that we get these weekly allocation numbers as soon as possible,” he added.
“A senior administration official familiar with the planning of Operation Warp Speed said all doses stored in Pfizer warehouses were either destined for future shipments or held as ‘safety stock’ ‘. “
General Gustave Perna, the chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed, told Cooper that the government will post Pfizer shipping numbers for potential states “by Friday at the latest,” after which shipments will be sent on Monday. .
“If there was a way to get them any sooner than that,” Cooper said, “that would be nice.”
Thursday was reported that the federal government responded to concerns about allocations coming too late in the week by moving the date back to Tuesday instead of Friday. In doing so, the New York Times “Meaning the federal government could not include in this shipping estimate the additional vaccine batches that were released after Tuesday, according to a senior administration official.”
Echoing this point, the Department of Health and Human Services insisted on Friday that any concerns about vaccine distribution were incorrect and that the supply shortage reports were simply due to shipments still being In progress.
“Information that court allocations are being reduced is inaccurate. As was done with the initial shipments of Pfizer vaccine, jurisdictions will receive the vaccine at different sites over several days, ”said a spokesperson for HHS. “Operation Warp speed allocation numbers locked with states have not been changed or adjusted.”
The spokesperson said vaccine allocations will depend “on the amount of vaccine available” and the administration would notify states of the number of vaccines available each week.
But a lingering question for state officials is whether the administration initially promised too much on the number of vaccines that could be delivered in the first waves of delivery. The federal government gave some states projections in mid-November that were, according to an official, twice as high as the number of doses those states would end up receiving. According to a recent report by McClatchy, a Pentagon system that tracks coronavirus vaccines, Tiberius, had outdated projections in place when distribution began, muddling the process and misleading governors about how many doses their states would receive.
Some states received revised figures in mid-December, according to local officials who spoke to The Daily Beast. But current projections are still below what states had, for weeks, thought they would receive for shipments from Pfizer in week two.
The issue was serious enough to trigger a direct call to action from Biden’s transition team. “We need the Trump administration to act now to buy the doses it negotiated with Pfizer and Moderna and work quickly to move manufacturing forward for the people of the United States and the world,” said the executive director of Biden’s transition, Yohannes Abraham, on a conference call.
By the end of the week, news of potential shortages had filtered down to the local level, where healthcare workers anxiously wondered if they would receive the doses they had been promised.
An emergency room nurse at Memorial West Hospital in Pembroke Pines, Fla., Said about 50% of her colleagues in the emergency department have signed up for the vaccine. The nurse, who received her first dose on Friday, said her hospital received 19,500 doses on Monday.
But while the state is receiving far fewer vaccines in the next two weeks than Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration initially planned, she was concerned that she would not receive her second dose in time for the vaccine to actually work.
“It’s crazy if we don’t get the next photo in time,” said the nurse, who spoke anonymously because she did not have permission from Memorial West to speak to the media. “The first vaccine only provides 50% immunity. If in 21 days I cannot receive the second dose, it will be a waste.
A Memorial West spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The federal government’s COVID vaccination program has always been meant to be a Herculean task. Amid rising cases and accompanying deaths, government officials and allied scientists have been scrambling to find a vaccine in record time. But they also understood that distributing it would be a huge bureaucratic and logistical lift. And even before the Pfizer vaccine was approved, there were signs of trouble ahead.
In several of the vaccine distribution plans reviewed by The Daily Beast, states raised concerns about shortages, highlighting the need for local health departments to manage public expectations and demand. In Michigan, officials said they were not releasing detailed information about how many doses the state expected because they did not want to release vital information about vaccines that could end up changing to the to come up.
The lack of lines of communication, experts say, has now manifested itself in the chaotic search for an explanation of dose status. The distribution of the vaccine sparked tensions in communities and even a protest at a large hospital in California, where frontline workers opposed what administrators appeared to cut the line.
It has also led the strange specter of the federal government and one of its major vaccine makers to speak to each other in semi-cryptic statements to the press.
On Thursday, Pfizer said it had shipped all of its initial 2.9 million doses and had “millions of additional doses in our warehouse” pending “shipping instructions.” A senior administration official familiar with the planning of Operation Warp Speed said all doses stored in Pfizer warehouses were either destined for future shipments or held as “safety stock”.
It is not clear why, if the initial 2.9 million doses had actually been shipped, states were saying they were ready to receive less than expected. Not only because it had been waited weeks for this precise number to be available, but because there were reports that the vils Pfizer was distributing contained more doses than expected.
“It’s an extremely complicated logistical challenge. It is the most complicated vaccination program in American history. But there has been a lack of alignment between the federal and state governments, ”said Tom Frieden, former CDC director in the Obama administration. “The CDC tried to do this [planning] for many months, but was essentially blocked by Operation Warp Speed. “
“At every step of the way,” he added, “there are things that could go wrong.”
– with report by Francisco Alvarado
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