Biden outlines ‘wartime effort’ to boost distribution of COVID-19 vaccines


The Biden administration says it plans to boost purchases of coronavirus vaccines to deliver enough to protect 300 million Americans by the end of the summer or early fall.

The effort will include a surge in deliveries to states over the next three weeks following complaints of shortages and inconsistent supplies.

U.S. President Joe Biden also announced that the federal government is purchasing an additional 100 million doses each of the two approved coronavirus vaccines. With existing purchases, the White House expects to be able to deliver enough of the two-dose regimens to meet its goal.

“This is enough vaccine to vaccinate 300 million Americans by end of summer, early fall,” Biden said, calling the push to increase supply a “wartime effort.”

The purchases from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna come as the Biden administration is trying to ramp up vaccine production and states’ capacities to inject them into arms. Even more vaccine could be available if federal scientists approve a single-dose shot from Johnson & Johnson, which is expected to seek emergency authorization in the coming weeks.

Biden also announced a roughly 16 per cent boost in deliveries to states over the coming weeks amid complaints of shortages so severe that some vaccination sites around the U.S. had to cancel tens of thousands of appointments with people seeking their first shot.

‘Lives are at stake’

The increase comes amid complaints from governors and top health officials about inadequate supplies and the need for earlier and more reliable estimates of how much vaccine is on the way so that they can plan accordingly.

Seeking to allay those concerns Tuesday during their first virus-related call with governors, Biden’s team pledged to provide states with firm vaccine allocations three weeks ahead of delivery to allow for accurate planning for injections.

“Until now, we’ve had to guess how much vaccine” each week,” Biden said. “This is unacceptable. Lives are at stake.”

The administration has also promised more openness and said it will hold news briefings three times a week, beginning Wednesday, about the outbreak that has killed more than 420,000 Americans.

The vaccination setup inherited from the Trump administration has been marked by miscommunication and unexplained supply bottlenecks.

U.S. Vice-President Kamala Harris receives her second dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in Bethesda, Md., on Tuesday. Hundreds of White House staffers are receiving vaccines in a bid to keep the president safe. Joe Biden has already received the required two doses. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Biden’s brand-new CDC director, was herself flummoxed over the weekend in trying to describe current supplies earlier this week.

“I can’t tell you how much vaccine we have,” she told Fox News Sunday, describing the problem as a challenge left by the outgoing Trump administration. “And if I can’t tell it to you, then I can’t tell it to the governors, and I can’t tell it to the state health officials.”

States struggle to deliver vaccines

Officials in West Virginia, which has had one of the best rates of administering vaccine, said it has fewer than 11,000 first doses on hand even after this week’s shipment.

“I’m screaming my head off” for more, Republican Gov. Jim Justice said.

Farm workers wait in line to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in Mecca, Calif., on Jan. 21. The state announced a new, centralized vaccine system to make it easier for residents to access the shots. (Jae C. Hong/The Associated Press)

California, which has faced criticism over a slow vaccine rollout, announced Tuesday that it is centralizing its hodgepodge of county systems and streamlining appointment sign-up, notification and eligibility. Residents have been baffled by the varying rules in different counties.

And in Colorado, Democratic Gov. Jared Polis said the limited supply of vaccine from the federal government is prompting the state to repurpose second doses as first doses, though he expects that people scheduled for their second shot will still be able to keep their appointments.

The weekly allocation cycle for first doses begins on Monday nights, when federal officials review data on vaccine availability from manufacturers to determine how much each state can have. Allocations are based on each jurisdiction’s population of people 18 and older.

States are notified on Tuesdays of their allocations through a computer network called Tiberius and other channels, after which they can specify where they want doses shipped. Deliveries start the following Monday.

A similar but separate process for ordering second doses, which must be given three to four weeks after the first, begins each week on Sunday night.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the CDC reported that just over half of the 44 million doses distributed to states have been put in people’s arms.

The U.S. ranks fifth in the world in the number of doses administered relative to the country’s population, behind No. 1 Israel, United Arab Emirates, Britain and Bahrain, according to the University of Oxford.

The reason more of the available shots in the U.S. haven’t been dispensed isn’t entirely clear. But many vaccination sites are apparently holding large quantities of vaccine in reserve to make sure people who have already gotten their first shot receive the required second one on schedule.

Also, some state officials have complained of a lag between when they report their vaccination numbers to the government and when the figures are posted on the CDC website.

In the New Orleans area, Ochsner Health said Monday that inadequate supply forced the cancellation last week of 21,400 first-dose appointments but that second-dose appointments aren’t affected.

The vaccine rollout across the 27-nation European Union has also run into roadblocks and has likewise been criticized as too slow. Pfizer is delaying deliveries while it upgrades its plant in Belgium to increase capacity. And AstraZeneca disclosed that its initial shipment will be smaller than expected.

The EU, with 450 million citizens, is demanding that the pharmaceutical companies meet their commitments on schedule.



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