State leaders confused after many told they won’t receive as many vaccine doses as expected

Tracking Coronavirus

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Uncertainty over the pace of federal COVID-19 vaccine allotments has triggered anger and confusion Friday in some states, with officials worried that the shipments they expected won’t be coming through.

The developments threatened to escalate tensions between the Trump administration and some states over who is responsible for the relatively slow start to the vaccination campaign against the scourge that has killed over 390,000 Americans.

Among the most outspoken state officials was Oregon Gov. Kate Brown. She tweeted her frustration after she was told by Gen. Gustave F. Perna, who leads the federal vaccine effort Operation Warp Speed, that states will not be receiving increased shipments of vaccines from the national stockpile next week.

Dr. Randall Williams, director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, said that’s also true in Missouri.

“We thought we were going to have a doubling of our vaccine in about two weeks. We learned this morning that is not the case,” Williams said. “We will have a slight increase but not nearly that much.” 

Williams said the change in supply won’t affect how Missouri distributes vaccines, just how quickly it is able to move the vaccine through the state. He said it won’t impact the state shifting into Phase 1B-Tier 1 or Tier 2, either.

“If we are not going to get as much vaccine, we can’t distribute it and vaccinate it, but the governor has always emphasized, that part of our planning, he insists that we be nimble because it’s a very dynamic situation, such of which we don’t control,” Williams said.

The state of Kansas said the lower number of doses it will receive won’t really impact it at this point.

Gov. Laura Kelly’s office released a statement saying, “…their changes only alter slightly the amount they have on-hand and will result in a minimal change in what is currently being allocated to states,”

Next week, Kansas is anticipating receiving 36,325 combined doses of Moderna and Pfizer for prime or first dose, along with about 17,000 second doses of Moderna.

Michael Pratt, a spokesman for the federal Department of Health and Human Services, said there may be confusion over expectations, but there has been no reduction in vaccine doses shipped to states.

“States are not seeing a reduction of anything,” Pratt said. “They may be seeing a reduction of expectations.”

As of Friday, the government had distributed over 31 million doses to states, U.S. territories and major cities. But only about 12.3 million doses had been administered, according to online tracking by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The two COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in the U.S. — made by Pfizer and Moderna – are designed to be given in two doses, three or four weeks apart.

For weeks, Operation Warp Speed had been holding large amounts of vaccine in reserve to ensure that those who got their first dose received their second one on time. The practice was a hedge against possible manufacturing delays.

When HHS Secretary Alex Azar announced on Tuesday that he was ending the practice, it was interpreted as essentially doubling the expected supply.

But there was another huge change: He also urged states to open vaccinations to everyone over 65 and those younger with certain health problems, even though most hadn’t yet finished all the health workers first in line or moved to the next tier, people 75 and older and other essential workers.

The result was a scramble by state and local health authorities to figure out exactly what amount of vaccine they would receive in coming weeks and how to more quickly ramp up mass vaccination plans for a public with higher expectations.

Pratt said doses that were being held in reserve to provide second shots were released last week. It’s unclear, however, if they all shipped prior to the Trump administration’s announcement early this week that states should open up vaccination to more people.

He said states are getting the required second doses they need and the number of first doses is stable.

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