Officials had said the United States would be able to put shots in the arms of 20 million people by the end of 2020, although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports just a fraction of that number have received vaccines thus far.
About 2.1 million people have received a first coronavirus vaccine dose, and about 11.4 million doses had been sent to states as of Monday morning, according to the agency’s website.
During a Wednesday afternoon briefing, Gustave Perna, chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed, said 14 million doses have been distributed in the United States to date. He said that by Thursday, jurisdictions will be able to place orders for up to 20 million vaccine doses.
“We have allocated, and will be available for final ordering, 20 million doses by this Thursday, distributed more than 14 million doses of vaccine to over 10,800 locations, and we have administered over 2 million doses in the last two weeks,” Perna said.
Adm. Brett Giroir, assistant secretary of health and human services, confirmed that vaccination efforts have fallen behind early projections, but he argued that a slow start is common for immunization programs. Appearing on CNN, he predicted a “massive scale-up” imminently, saying the nation would inoculate more than 30 million people in January and 50 million in February.
Moncef Slaoui, chief science adviser to Operation Warp Speed, acknowledged the number of reported shots is “lower than what we hoped for.”
Slaoui invited people who have the “energy to participate” to roll up their sleeves and “help us with specific ideas” to improve the administration of the vaccines. “We know that it should be better, and we’re working hard to make it better,” he said.
Perna said he believes authorities “at the state level and local level are working this aggressively.”
He said he is looking at a 72- to 96-hour delay in reporting data on vaccinations. “That data will tighten up as the systems and the reporting becomes more regular and routine,” he said.
Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, suggested states may need more funding to be able to implement plans to more efficiently distribute vaccines.
“I think the federal government can help us out there more than in any other way,” he said in an interview on CNN. “They don’t have to establish a plan, just give us money.”
In Pennsylvania, for example, he said such funds could help to set up a vaccine distribution center to get vaccine doses to sparsely populated areas.
“I don’t understand the government’s reluctance to give us the money we need. The way out of this pandemic is with a vaccine; that’s the only way out of this pandemic,” said Offit, who is a member of the Food and Drug Administration’s independent panel that debates vaccine data and whether the agency should clear a vaccine. “We should be doing everything we can to make sure there are systems in place to distribute this vaccine efficiently and well, and that does require money. And to sort of stand back, point your finger at the states and say it’s all your problem, it doesn’t make any sense.”
State officials have pointed to a range of logistical challenges slowing the pace of administration of vaccines, including the Christmas holiday and supply limitations.
Anecdotally, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) on Wednesday said about 60 percent of nursing home staff offered a vaccine have refused the shot.
“If you pass that up, there’s no guarantee when you are going to have an opportunity to do that again,” DeWine said in a news briefing.
In a tweet, President-elect Joe Biden called on Americans to “step up together” in an effort to curb the spread of the virus in weeks and months ahead.
His message comes ahead of New Year’s Eve, as officials have expressed concern about how holiday travel could fuel infection surges in the United States.
“Wear a mask. Stay socially distanced. Avoid large indoor gatherings,” Biden tweeted. “Each of us has a duty to do what we can to protect ourselves, our families, and our fellow Americans.”
Meanwhile, Britain became the first country to greenlight the coronavirus vaccine from the University of Oxford and the British-Swedish pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca.
It’s a second vaccine for the country and an additional tool in the battle against a rapidly spreading virus, a surge fueled by a new, highly infectious variant. Two-thirds of Britain is under near-lockdown.
During a briefing by Britain’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, which cleared the vaccine, independent scientists said the vaccine was around “70 percent” effective, according to data from Oxford-AstraZeneca following clinical trials in Britain, Brazil and South Africa.
The new variant fueling Britain’s surge has also been detected elsewhere. The first known case of a person infected with the variant in the United States was reported on Tuesday, and Colorado officials are now investigating a second suspected infection involving the variant.
On Wednesday, Newsom (D) announced that the new variant had made its way to Southern California in a virtual conversation with Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Shortly after Newsom’s talk with Fauci, San Diego County confirmed the variant was found in a 30-year-old man who had no recent travel history.
Fauci said this news was to be expected.
“I’m not surprised you have a case or likely more cases in California,” Fauci told Newsom. “I don’t think Californians should feel this is something odd.”
The final day of 2020 on Thursday will also mark one year since reports emerged that the Chinese government was “closely monitoring” mysterious pneumonia cases in Wuhan.
In a message marking the moment, Tedros said the pandemic “triggered the fastest and most wide-reaching response to a global health emergency in human history. The hallmarks of this response have been an unparalleled mobilization of science.”