States are ramping up their Covid-19 vaccination programs so more people can be protected against the virus, but some governors are confused and angry because they don’t know how much vaccine the federal government will send them.
Though the Trump administration announced this week that it would release all available Covid-19 vaccine doses instead of holding second doses in reserve, a senior administration official told CNN Friday that many of those reserves were already released last year.
Also on Friday, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told NBC News there is no “reserve stockpile” of Covid-19 vaccine doses left to release.
“We now have enough confidence that our ongoing production will be quality and available to provide the second dose for people, so we’re not sitting on a reserve anymore,” Azar said. “We’ve made that available to the states to order.”
Meanwhile, there are more places to get vaccinated.
For example, Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles has been turned into a massive drive-thru vaccination site. More than 2,000 people were registered to receive shots there Friday, and the site eventually is expected to serve more than 12,000 per day, officials have said.
Other states are letting pharmacies and large businesses give vaccinations.
But not everybody has enoiugh vaccine.
“I have 2.1 million of you in line, and they gave us 60,000 [vaccine doses],” Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said Friday. “I can’t go and buy [vaccine doses] somewhere, I can’t beg them from somewhere, I can’t even have them shipped directly to me.”
With New Jersey’s inoculation infrastructure growing, Gov. Phil Murphy called on the federal government to provide more vaccine.
“It’s increasingly apparent that we are ready, but the feds are not,” Murphy said.
Illinois will be adding “hundreds” of Covid-19 vaccination sites across the state, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said. But, he noted, vaccine supplies are still “extremely” limited.
Dr. Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer for the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, called the federal government’s release of vaccine more of a “paper exercise.”
“The stockpile appears to be all on paper; they were tracking anticipated need but not actually holding back product,” Plescia said.
That means the vaccine will remain scarce for at least a few more weeks, he said.
Calling the lack of vaccine a “catastrophe” that endangers lives, Walz said he and other governors were lied to by the federal government.
“I have been frustrated at times beyond belief but this one is so far beyond the pale to be almost unimaginable,” he said. “Where did they go? Who’s going to be prosecuted for this?”
Pfizer on Friday said it has second doses ready to ship as needed, though.
“Operation Warp Speed (OWS) has asked us to start shipping second doses only recently. As a result, we have on hand all the second doses of the previous shipments to the US. We are working around the clock to produce millions more each day,” Pfizer said in a statement sent to CNN.
President-elect Joe Biden on Thursday announced a plan — as part of a wider $1.9 trillion economic rescue proposal — to send $350 billion to state, local and territorial governments.
The money will be used in part to help distribute the vaccine, as well as to increase testing, keep frontline workers employed, reopen schools and maintain vital services.
Biden on Friday pledged to communicate better with states about distribution and to make sure as many vaccine doses are made available as soon as possible.
“Our administration will release the vast majority of the vaccines when they’re available,” Biden said Friday.
Biden aims to vaccinate 100 million people in 100 days, and that’s a feasible goal, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Friday on NBC’s “Today” show.
“Even now, we’ve gone from half a million a day to 750,000 (doses) a day. I believe strongly that it (1 million per day) is doable — and if we do it, stay on target to get the overwhelming majority of the country vaccinated,” said Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Discrepancies in vaccine distribution
Nearly 10.6 million people have received at least their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, with more than 1.6 million of those having also received their second dose, according to data published by the CDC.
It’s far from the target of 20 million vaccinated by the end of 2020 set by officials with the federal Operation Warp Speed effort. While the operation’s chief adviser, Moncef Slaoui, told CNN the figure was a “hope” and not a promise, Biden on Thursday called the vaccine distribution rollout so far “a dismal failure.”
At least one state, however, says its distribution is ahead of the game.
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice told CNN that as of Monday, every vaccine dose received by the state had been administered or assigned to be given within a day or so. The state leads the nation in terms of first doses administered per capita, according to the CDC data, nearly doubling the national rate.
“We’ve absolutely not gone with the federal model,” Justice told CNN on Thursday. Instead of using chain drugstores to administer the vaccine, the state has relied on partnerships with local pharmacies, the state health department and National Guard to distribute the vaccines effectively, he said.
“It’s as simple as mud. If you can get shots in arms, you’re going to save lives,” Justice said. “We don’t need to sit around trying to develop systems or meeting with committees or whatever. We needed to act. We needed to move.”
Other states are not having the same success as West Virginia.
Texas — the second-most populous state — has administered the most doses of any state so far, with more than 1 million total doses put into arms, according to CDC data. Yet about 10% of the rural hospitals in Texas have yet to receive a single Covid-19 vaccine dose, according to a group representing rural hospitals in the state.
The state was tied for 18th in total doses administered per capita as of Thursday, according to CDC data.
One CEO of a rural hospital group in Texas reported that some employees had to get vaccines from a local supermarket, which had extra doses to spare.
In some metropolitan areas, including Houston, Phoenix and Los Angeles, stadiums and theme parks or their parking lots are being used as mass-vaccination sites.
Latest surge has resulted in record deaths
The US has counted more Covid-19 deaths these last two weeks than any other 14-day stretch of the pandemic.
And at this rate, the nation’s overall coronavirus death toll may hit 400,000 before President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in on Wednesday.
The country reported more than 42,800 Covid-19 deaths during the first 14 days of January, averaging more than 3,050 per day — the highest for any two-week stretch of the pandemic, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
Another 14,400 Americans are projected to die from the virus over the next six days, according to an ensemble forecast published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And by May 1, according to the influential University of Washington model, the US will have 192,000 more Covid-19 deaths, bringing the total to 566,720 American deaths.
More rapid vaccination efforts can bring the number down to 553,000, and mask use by everyone would reduce it further, to 535,000, the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation projected.
This comes as the nation’s health care system scrambles to keep up with influxes of patients, with more than 128,900 Covid-19 patients Thursday in hospitals across the country. That’s not far from the pandemic’s peak of more than 132,400 reached eight days earlier — according to the COVID Tracking Project.
The city of Laredo, Texas, tweeted an “emergency message” Thursday saying its health care workers are getting crushed by the swell in cases.
“Our medical professionals are overwhelmed with the surge in COVID-19 cases. Lives are at stake, and we are asking you to stay home unless it’s absolutely necessary … save a life,” the tweet said.
Case levels across the country are near the highest they’ve been. On Thursday, the US recorded its 10th straight day of more than 200,000 newly reported infections.
And the country’s average of new daily cases across a week was about 238,830 on Thursday, short of a peak average of about 249,800 reached just three days prior.
Since the pandemic began, more than 388,000 people in the US have died from Covid-19, according to Johns Hopkins data.
As frontline workers struggle to keep patients alive and hospital ICU wings operational, the success of the vaccine rollout remains inconsistent.
Precautions still necessary
While the vaccine rollout generally provides long-term hope for the country to overcome the pandemic, the situation nationwide still requires preventive measures.
In Missouri, lawmakers canceled next week’s legislative session due to the rise in Covid-19 infections.
“Due to the rising number of Covid-19 cases in the building, we are exercising an abundance of caution to protect members, staff, and visitors by canceling session next week. Our goal is to return to work the following week,” read the statement from Missouri House leadership.
Experts are hoping precautions can help turn the tide of debilitating case numbers, like those faced in California.
Available ICU beds have reached their lowest level, according to the California Department of Public Health. Fewer than 1,100 ICU beds remain throughout the state, a shrinking number from the beginning of the surge in November.
Los Angeles County has been particularly hard struck. The seven-day average of deaths in the county from Covid-19 is 1,644 people, according to Johns Hopkins data. This averages to about one death every six minutes.