On Wednesday, while New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a coronavirus press conference that the state would be running out of vaccines to administer in two to three days, thousands of New York City (NYC) residents were getting their vaccine appointments rescheduled. The city’s 15 vaccine hubs, as NYC Councilmember Mark Levine tweeted, would be closing on Thursday and Friday because of a shortage of supply.
“Approx 22k appointments will be rescheduled for next week. No new appointments being added until there is more certainty on supply,” said Levine. “This is the mess [Donald] Trump left us.” Three new vaccination hubs had just opened on Saturday.
According to Gothamist, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio says that there was a shipment delay of over 100,000 shots, a mix of first and second doses of the Moderna vaccine. De Blasio added that the thousands of delayed appointments were all first doses, mitigating the worry of risk when increasing the time between a patient receiving a first and second dose.
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The mayor had warned about this problem last week, while hospitals were canceling appointments. On Tuesday, de Blasio told NBC New York, “This is crazy. This is not the way it should be. We have the ability to vaccinate a huge number of people. We need the vaccine to go with it.” He has called on Cuomo to release 65,000 doses that the state has in reserve owing to some people slotted to receive the vaccine in the first wave declining to be vaccinated.
Both Cuomo and de Blasio join the many other state and local officials across the country who are critical of the Trump administration’s handling of the vaccine rollout. Earlier this week, frustrated with the slow pace at which New York state was receiving vaccines, Cuomo sent a request to Pfizer to let the state purchase doses directly from the company.
“After myself and seven other governors called on the Trump Administration to release more doses, HHS Secretary Alex Azar said that relief was on the way,” Cuomo said in the request. “To date, however, the federal government has not acted on that promise — in fact, New York will receive just 250,000 doses this week, 50,000 fewer than the week prior.”
Last week, Azar had encouraged states to open eligibility for the vaccine, stating that the Trump administration would start releasing second doses from a federal stockpile. But it was uncovered a few days later that the stockpile didn’t actually exist, leaving state and public health officials scrambling — even more than they already were — to keep up with the myriad last-minute changes that the administration was making.
Many health officials have cited the lack of consistent federal guidance from the former Trump administration as a huge hurdle in working out vaccine distribution. “The recurring theme is the lack of a national strategy and the attempt to pass the buck down the line, lower and lower, until the poor people at the receiving end have nobody else that they can send the buck to,” one public health official in Kansas told the Associated Press.
And, for all of Trump’s talk of “America first,” a New York Times report uncovered last December that a decision by his administration to pass on locking in the purchase of more doses with Pfizer over the summer may have allowed other countries to take the U.S.’s place in line for the vaccine.
President Joe Biden, who was sworn in on Wednesday, has promised to vaccinate 100 million Americans in the first 100 days of his presidency — the feasibility of which has waned in recent weeks, though Biden remains sure that it is possible. He released a vaccination plan last Friday that includes expanding eligibility and opening up more vaccination sites.
Though manufacturing and distribution have thus far been sluggish, Biden’s COVID-19 advisory team has said that he plans to invoke the Defense Production Act, a wartime manufacturing law, to speed up production. The law would allow Biden to compel manufacturers to prioritize making the vaccine.
Last year, Trump also invoked the Defense Production Act to make protective gear, such as masks and gowns, more widely available, but supply during the early months of the pandemic was still so limited that nurses were compelled to wear trash bags (in lieu of gowns) to protect themselves. Experts said that Trump wasted months by not acting on the manufacturing law, even though it was already invoked.