In response to growing frustration with the vaccine shortage, President Joe Biden announced that the US would increase shipments to distressed states over the next three weeks and is expected to provide enough doses to vaccinate 300 million Americans by the end of summer or early fall.
Calling the push a “war effort,” Biden said Tuesday the government was working to purchase an additional 100 million doses of each of the two approved coronavirus vaccines. He admitted that in the past few weeks states have not guessed how much vaccine they will have from one week to the next.
The shortage was so severe that some vaccination centers in the US had to cancel tens of thousands of appointments with people looking for their first shot.
“That is unacceptable,” said Biden. “Lives are at stake.”
He promised an increase in shipments to states by around 16% over the next three weeks.
The government plans to buy an additional 100 million doses from drug makers Pfizer and Moderna to ensure that enough vaccines are available in the long term. Even more vaccines could be available if federal scientists approve a single dose of Johnson & Johnson, which is expected to seek emergency approval in the coming weeks.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the government plans to provide approximately 10.1 million first and second doses next week, up from 8.6 million this week. The numbers represent doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. It was not immediately clear how long the dose increase could be sustained.
Governors and senior health officials have been raising increasing alarms about inadequate care and the need for earlier and more reliable estimates of how much vaccine is on the way for them to plan.
Biden’s team made its first virus-related phone call to the country’s governors on Tuesday, pledging to provide solid vaccine allocations to states three weeks in advance of delivery.
Biden’s announcement came a day after he became more optimistic about exceeding his vaccination promise of giving 100 million injections in his first 100 days in office, suggesting a rate of 1.5 million doses per day could soon be reached.
The government has also pledged to be more open and announced that it will hold press conferences three times a week starting Wednesday about the outbreak, which killed over 420,000 Americans.
“We appreciate the government’s statement that it will be giving states slightly higher grants over the next few weeks, but we will need a lot more supplies,” said Republican Governor Larry Hogan of Maryland.
The setup inherited from the Trump administration was marked by misunderstandings and unexplained bottlenecks. Bottlenecks have been reported in some places even if the vaccine doses remain on the shelf.
Officials in West Virginia who have had one of the best vaccine delivery rates said they still have fewer than 11,000 first doses after shipping this week.
“I’m screaming my head off,” said Republican Governor Jim Justice.
California, criticized for slow adoption of vaccines, announced Tuesday that it is centralizing its collection of county systems and streamlining registration, notification, and authorization for appointments. The residents were amazed at the different rules in the various counties.
And in Colorado, Democratic Governor Jared Polis said the federal government’s limited vaccine supply is causing the state to reuse second doses as first doses, although it expects those scheduled for their second shot to continue to meet their deadlines.
The weekly allocation cycle for the first doses begins Monday evening when federal officials review vaccine availability dates from manufacturers to see how much each state can have. Allocations are based on the population of each jurisdiction with individuals aged 18 and over.
States are notified of their allocation on Tuesdays through a computer network called Tiberius and other channels. You can then specify where the cans should be sent. Delivery starts the following Monday.
A similar but separate procedure for ordering second doses, to be given three to four weeks after the first, begins on Sunday evening each week.
On Tuesday afternoon, the CDC reported that just over half of the 44 million doses distributed to states had been placed in people’s arms. That’s far fewer than the hundreds of millions of doses that experts say must be given to achieve herd immunity and defeat the outbreak.
According to the University of Oxford, the US ranks fifth in the world in terms of the number of doses administered relative to the country’s population, behind Israel No. 1, the United Arab Emirates, Great Britain and Bahrain.
The reason why more of the recordings available in the US have not been turned in is not entirely clear. But many vaccination centers appear to hold large amounts of vaccine on reserve to ensure that people who have already received their first shot get the required second on time.
Some state officials have also complained of a delay between reporting their vaccination numbers to the government and the publication of the numbers on the CDC website.
In the New Orleans area, Ochsner Health said Monday that inadequate care had forced the cancellation of 21,400 appointments for the first dose last week, but appointments for the second dose were not affected.
In North Carolina, Greensboro-based Cone Health announced that it would cancel first-dose appointments for 10,000 people and put them on a waiting list due to supply issues.
Jesse Williams, 81, of Reidsville, North Carolina said his Thursday appointment with Cone Health had been scratched and he was waiting to know when it could be rescheduled. The former volunteer firefighter had hoped the vaccine would enable him to go back to church, play golf and see friends.
“It’s just a frustration that we expected to have our shots and be a little more resilient to COVID-19,” he said.
The introduction of vaccines across the European Union of 27 countries has also encountered roadblocks and has also been criticized as being too slow. Pfizer is delaying delivery as it modernizes its plant in Belgium to increase capacity. And AstraZeneca announced that the first delivery will be smaller than expected.
The EU with 450 million inhabitants demands that pharmaceutical companies meet their obligations on time.
Associate press writers in the US contributed to this report.
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