Following the Trump administration’s promise to release a stash of reserved coronavirus vaccine doses, several states expected a huge dose spike. Some followed federal guidelines to expand eligibility to wider swaths of people.
But that promise turned out to be too good to be true – most of the inventory had already been delivered. And now these states are crawling and just as swamped by the country’s beleaguered vaccine distribution as before.
Oregon Governor Kate Brown, awaiting the additional doses, opened vaccine registration to people 65 and older, as well as to educators and child carers. Now, she said in a press release, the state’s plan to vaccinate all elderly residents will be delayed by two weeks.
The confusion began Tuesday with a statement from Alex M. Azar II, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, accusing states of not using their vaccines efficiently and asking them to open the eligibility to anyone age 65 and over for tens of millions of adults with conditions that increase the risk of dying from coronavirus infection.
“We’re releasing all of the supply we have to order from the states rather than keeping second doses in physical reserves,” he said, adding that the vaccine doses are no longer in stock.
Several states then assumed they would receive an influx of new doses that could be used to vaccinate new people. Some, including New York, quickly followed federal government advice and expanded access to vaccines, leading to a surge in interest – and confusion – as thousands of newly admitted people searched for dates to get vaccinated.
On Thursday, Oregon officials determined that the federal distribution system “did not have any additional doses available” beyond those available prior to the Trump administration’s announcement on Tuesday, Oregon Health Authority director Patrick M. Allen wrote in one Letter to Mr. Azar posted by NBC News.
Mr. Allen and Ms. Brown spoke to an official from Operation Warp Speed, the federal government’s vaccination program, who “told us there was no reserve dose,” he wrote.
“This is extremely worrying and seriously jeopardizes our plans to expand eligibility,” wrote Allen. “These plans were made based on what you said about the release of all of the supply in your reserve.”
Governor Brown said on Twitter: “This is a national deception.”
On Friday, the public learned that the Trump administration had been handing out all available doses since late December after the Washington Post reported the news.
Jan. 17, 2021, 9:35 p.m. ET
“Who will be prosecuted for this?” Minnesota Governor Tim Walz asked at a news conference Friday. Mr Walz said he “didn’t sleep” because he feared Minnesotans might not get their second dose.
Colorado Governor Jared Polis said his state will receive 79,000 doses this week instead of the 210,000 he expected.
“We should have known that we don’t believe a word,” said Polis of the Trump administration.
Senior Trump administration officials told the New York Times on Friday that the reserved doses had already been distributed to states and were never intended to vaccinate additional people.
Shipments containing eight to 12 million cans per week will be sent over the next few weeks, a senior administrative official said on Friday. These broadcasts are divided among those who receive their first and second shots.
Daniel Larremore, assistant professor at the BioFrontiers Institute at the University of Colorado at Boulder, said that when the sand is constantly under your feet, governors who make distribution plans “are difficult to make those plans and get people in line moves the vaccine. “
Federal, state and local officials have swapped the blame for the faulty rollout. Dr. Tom Frieden, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said it had been “chaotic” and tweeted Friday that the Trump administration’s current plan “appears to be pointing fingers at states”.
“The only way to succeed is to take a nationwide, societal approach,” he said. “If we are divided, the virus will continue to conquer us.”