The Trump Administration Was Just Kidding When It Said It Had Tons More Vaccine Doses to Ship Out (It Has Zero)
Surprise: Team Trump has royally f---ed up the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
Earlier this week, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced that the federal government would start releasing COVID-19 doses that had been held in reserve for second shots, as part of an effort to ramp up a distribution process that has been plagued by chaos and delay. “This new system gives states a strong incentive to ensure that...doses are going to work protecting people rather than sitting on shelves or in freezers,” Azar said at the time. The move was applauded by many, including Ohio governor Mike DeWine, who called it a “welcome change,” with other supporters saying that despite the fact that it might result in a small delay for people’s second shots, it was more important to get as many doses out as quickly as possible as deaths from the virus hit record numbers and a new, even more contagious variant spreads through the U.S. There was just one teeny, tiny problem with the new plan, so small that the federal government apparently didn’t think to mention it at the time. It didn‘t have any more doses to ship out. Whoops! Their bad.
On Friday, The Washington Post reported the news of the colossal fuckup:
Because both of the vaccines authorized for emergency use in the United States are two-dose regimens, the Trump administration’s initial policy was to hold back second doses to protect against the possibility of manufacturing disruptions. But that approach shifted in recent weeks, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter. These officials were told that Operation Warp Speed, which is overseeing the distribution of vaccines, stopped stockpiling second doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at the end of last year. The last shots held in reserve of Moderna’s supply, meanwhile, began shipping out over the weekend.
[It] meant there was no stockpile of second doses waiting to be shipped, as Trump administration officials suggested this week. Azar, at a Tuesday briefing, said, “Because we now have a consistent pace of production, we can now ship all of the doses that had been held in physical reserve.” He explained the decision as part of the “next phase” of the nation’s vaccination campaign.
Now, local health and government officials throughout the country who had expected their exceedingly limited supply of vaccines to be doubling starting next week, and had planned to dramatically expand availability to millions of high-risk and elderly people, are learning that, no, that’s not happening. And, not surprisingly, they’re pretty pissed. On Friday, Oregon governor Kate Brown took to Twitter to express her palpable—and reasonable!—outrage, writing: “Last night, I received disturbing news, confirmed to me directly by General Perna of Operation Warp Speed: States will not be receiving increased shipments of vaccines from the national stockpile next week, because there is no federal reserve of doses. I am demanding answers from the Trump Administration. I am shocked and appalled that they have set an expectation on which they could not deliver, with such grave consequences. This is a deception on a national scale. Oregon’s seniors, teachers, all of us, were depending on the promise of Oregon’s share of the federal reserve of vaccines being released to us.”
Colorado governor Jared Polis was similarly enraged, tweeting: “I’m shocked we were lied to and there is no national reserve. Federal announcements that 2nd dose being held in reserve was going to be released led us to expect 210,000 doses next week, other Govs made similar plans now we find out we’ll only get 79,000 next week.
Of course, ask the Trump administration, and it did nothing wrong. States just misunderstood them when they claimed many more doses were on the way. Per CNN:
Oregon Health Director Patrick Allen, in a letter to Azar in which he recounted a call with Brown and Operation Warp Speed CEO General Gustave Perna on Thursday, demanded that the HHS chief reconcile his statement about “releasing the entire supply” with this revelation.
In an interview with CNN, Allen described the call as an “awkward discussion” in which Perna had confirmed there was no physical stockpile of vaccine but made it seem as if states had simply misunderstood the administration’s plans. “I do not believe I misunderstood,” Allen said. Allen confirmed that Oregon will have to delay its plan to start vaccinating seniors January 23, since no surge in vaccine is coming. “It’s just so disappointing,” he added. “People are desperate for the vaccine, and we have worked so hard to be able to expand who’s eligible, and to not be able to do it is just crushing right now.”