Earlier this week, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said that the Trump administration would begin urging states to expand access to the COVID-19 vaccine, and promised to start releasing second doses of the vaccine from the federal stockpile.
The problem is that the Trump administration has been shipping doses directly off the manufacturing line. In other words, the promised stockpile doesn’t exist.
“Health officials across the country who had anticipated their extremely limited vaccine supply as much as doubling beginning next week are confronting the reality that their allocations will not immediately increase,” the Washington Post reported.
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Officials were evidently briefed on the fact that the stockpile was nonexistent, the Post says, but the doses were already beginning to be shipped from the manufacturing line in December.
“We’re now making the full reserve of doses we have available for order. We are 100 percent committed to ensuring a second dose is available for every American who receives the first dose,” said Azar at a press briefing on Tuesday. “Because we now have a consistent pace of production, we can now ship all of the doses that had been held in physical reserve.”
In the same announcement, Azar emphasized that states should be expanding access to everyone over 65. The absence of the promised stockpile is especially frustrating for those in charge of vaccine administration who may have already begun planning for this change.
The revelation that there is no dose stockpile is another blow to what has already been a sluggish rollout of the vaccine nationwide.
The Associated Press reports that part of the reason for the slow start is a dearth of federal guidance on how rollout should be implemented, as well as mixed messages on how many doses are available to states. State health officials also say, according to AP, that there has not been enough money spent on vaccine education and that funding for states that was approved only very recently should have gone out months ago.
Last minute changes, as the one Azar announced earlier this week as well as the news of the stockpile, also erode trust among the public in vaccine distribution, which may also hamper the distribution and administration of the shots.
As the pandemic went by last year, the Trump administration’s promises on vaccine distribution became less ambitious; first, he spent the summer promising 100 million doses by the end of 2020. In December, his administration promised that 20 million Americans would be vaccinated by the end of the year. As of December 30, only 2.6 million had received it.
President-elect Biden had already announced last week that it would be releasing all available doses when his term begins. It’s unclear as to whether Biden’s team was aware that there was no stockpile available.
A former FDA official told CNN that the decision to release doses as they are available, as, evidently, both administrations have made, is risky, as there is a chance that some patients may have their second doses delayed, which has not been tested for efficacy.
Biden has promised to administer 100 million vaccinations in his first 100 days in office, but some members of his COVID-19 task force say that that plan may falter because of the many logistical problems that have come up in the past weeks.