Vaccine distribution in the United States has started more slowly than expected, federal health officials confirmed in a press conference Wednesday, but also expressed confidence that the pace would accelerate in the coming weeks.
As of Wednesday, more than 14 million doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines had been shipped to the United States, up from 11.4 million doses on Monday morning. However, according to a dashboard from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 2.1 million people had received their first dose on Monday morning.
“We agree that this number is lower than hoped,” said Moncef Slaoui, scientific adviser to Operation Warp Speed, the federal effort to accelerate vaccine development and distribution. He added, “We know it should be better and we are working hard to do better.”
The 2.1 million doses administered by the CDC are an underestimate of the real number due to delays in reporting. And a CDC official said in a separate press conference Wednesday that 2.6 million people had received their first dose. Whatever the number, it falls far short of the goal that federal officials put forward just this month of having 20 million people vaccinated by the end of this year.
The Operation Warp Speed press conference came the day after President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. gave a speech in Wilmington, Delaware, criticizing the Trump administration for these delays. Mr Biden said that at the current vaccination rate, it will take “years, not months” to protect the whole country.
When he takes office on January 20, Mr. Biden will employ a law called the Defense Production Act to “direct private industry to expedite the manufacture of the materials and protective equipment needed for vaccines.” However, the Trump administration has already used that law to expedite manufacturing and Mr Biden has given few details on how his plan will be different. He has promised to give 100 million shots in the first 100 days of his tenure – or enough for about 50 million people if he uses the two-dose vaccines.
Apr. 30, 2020 at 8:31 am ET
“This will be the greatest operational challenge we have ever faced as a nation,” said Biden, “but we will make it.”
In a tweet on Tuesday, President Trump appeared to blame the governors, saying it was “a matter for states to distribute the vaccines as soon as they are brought into designated areas by the federal government.” But several governors recently said their states were in trouble because they didn’t get enough money from the federal government.
Speaking at the Operation Warp Speed press conference Wednesday, General Gustave F. Perna, the effort’s logistics director, said his team had no clear understanding of why these delays were occurring. He said the CDC is collecting data to better understand the factors driving slow absorption. “To get more specificity at this point after two weeks, I don’t think it’s appropriate,” he said.
However, General Perna pointed out a few possible factors. In addition to the delays in coverage, the holiday season and winter weather have delayed recording. Hospitals and other institutions that administer the vaccines are still learning how to store the cans in very cold temperatures and how to administer them properly. And the states have set aside many doses to be dispensed to their long-term care facilities. This initiative is currently in preparation and is expected to take several months.
So far, most of the vaccines given have been dispensed in hospitals, clinics and nursing homes. Dr. Slaoui and General Perna both said they expected the pace of rollout to accelerate significantly once pharmacies start offering vaccines in their stores.
The federal government has agreements with a number of pharmacy chains – including Costco, Walmart and CVS – to dispense vaccines in their stores and other locations as soon as vaccines become more widely available. To date, 40,000 pharmacy locations have signed up for this program, General Perna said.
“What we should look at is the rate of acceleration over the coming weeks,” said Dr. Slaoui, “and I hope it’s going in the right direction.”