Shipments of the second coronavirus vaccine approved by health regulators are set to arrive in states Monday, according to the Trump administration’s vaccine operations chief, one week after front-line health workers received the first shots in the US government’s mass vaccination campaign.
Gustave Perna, chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed, said Saturday that distribution was already underway for the vaccine developed by Massachusetts biotechnology company Moderna in partnership with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, following the Food and Drug Administration’s decision to clear the shot late Friday.
Workers were packing the vials into boxes at distribution centres run by the medical wholesale giant McKesson, Mr Perna said. FedEx and UPS trucks are slated to depart Sunday and carry the freezer-temperature containers to their destinations. The government has also begun shipping ancillary kits including needles, syringes and other supplies to help administer the shots, according to Mr Perna.
Later on Saturday, an independent vaccine advisory panel to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention voted to recommend Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine for use in people ages 18 and older, paving the way for inoculations to begin as shipments arrive. The move follows Friday’s authorisation from the FDA, which permitted the vaccine to be administered; an endorsement by the CDC immunisation panel signals that the vaccine should be administered to the populations included in its guidance.
The rollout of the Moderna vaccine caps a week marked by a mix of high hopes and frustration surrounding the administration’s handling of the first coronavirus vaccine, developed by Pfizer and BioNTech and cleared by the FDA on 12 December.
Days after doctors, nurses and other Americans received the first injections, officials in multiple states said they were alerted that their second round of shipments had been drastically cut, creating widespread confusion and raising concerns about whether health departments would receive enough doses to meet the administration’s timelines.
Speaking in a Saturday morning news conference, Mr Perna said he took personal responsibility for the error, saying he misunderstood a step in the process that prevents the government from releasing vaccine doses as soon as the manufacturer makes them available. As a result, he said, his forecasts were incorrect and he had to lower the vaccine allocations.
“To the governors to the governors’ staffs, please accept my personal apology if this was disruptive in your decision-making,” Mr Perna said.
Asked to explain the issue in plain terms, Mr Perna declined to elaborate. He called the situation a “miscommunication” and a “planning problem,” not a problem with either of the vaccines themselves.
He added that the administration was on track to allocate “around 20 million doses” of the vaccines by the end of December, but said distribution could extend into early January. The characterisation appeared to mark a departure from the administration’s goal of administering 20 million shots by the end of the year.
“We are pushing out millions of doses of vaccines right now, and each week those numbers will continue to grow,” Mr Perna said.
So far, 2.9 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine have been delivered across all 50 states. Between the two vaccines, 7.9 million doses were allocated and ready for distribution this week, according to Mr Perna.
As of Saturday morning, 272,001 doses of the Pfizer vaccine had been administered, according to the CDC.
The approval of Moderna’s vaccine marks a crucial expansion of the government’s vaccination efforts, freeing the country from having to rely on a vaccine from one manufacturer as officials try to meet ambitious goals for getting doses out the door.
One benefit of the vaccine is that it can be stored at the temperature of a normal freezer, making it easier to transport. Pfizer’s vaccine, by contrast, needs ultra-low-temperature freezers regularly refreshed with dry ice.
Mr Perna said workers were packing containers with 100 vials each, a relatively small number that also eases transportation. “This allows jurisdictions ways to reach small and hard-to-reach rural areas,” he said Saturday.
As the first waves of vaccines have reached hospitals and health departments nationwide, local disputes have arisen over who should get the shots first, bringing the logistical challenges of inoculating millions of people into sharp relief at a time when infections and deaths have reached record levels.
In California, where many intensive care units are overwhelmed with patients, nearly all young front-line doctors at Stanford Medical Center were excluded from the initial round of coronavirus vaccinations, prompting an outcry from workers who said such workers should be prioritised.
Dozens of the hospital’s residents and fellows staged a raucous protest on the Palo Alto campus Friday, accusing the university of selecting orthopedists, dermatologists and even some faculty who work from home for vaccination before workers who spend long hours treating covid-19 patients.
Stanford officials apologized for the issue, saying a faulty vaccine algorithm left out early-year doctors and promising an immediate fix. “We take complete responsibility for the errors in the execution of our vaccine distribution plan,” Stanford Medicine said in a statement.
Christine Santiago, a 29-year-old resident in internal medicine who treated covid-19 patients during night shifts in the ICU, told The Washington Post that resident physicians “occupy a very unprotected space in the United States.”
“We’re not fully employees of the workforce,” said Ms Santiago, who said she is home quarantining and waiting on a coronavirus test after using a faulty batch of N95 masks. “We fall in this vague, unclear position.”
Nationwide, coronavirus infections continued to surge, with the seven-day average for new daily cases rising 3.1% over the past week, according to data tracked by The Post. The weekly average for daily deaths rose 6.1%, with 2,878 coronavirus fatalities reported Friday. Hospitalisations also climbed more than 6% nationwide.
California reported a record 379 deaths on Thursday, followed by a near-record of 300 on Friday and 279 as of Saturday afternoon. Infections in the state have topped 40,000 for four consecutive days, with at least 43,600 reported Saturday, according to The Post’s tracking.
Although coronavirus vaccine doses have arrived in all 50 states, only about 15 have begun releasing daily vaccination data. About a dozen others have disclosed plans to offer some form of public vaccination tracking, while others have made no mention of it, the Covid Tracking Project noted in an analysis this week.
Convincing large portions of the population to get the vaccine remains a challenge for health officials around the country, who have launched an array of awareness campaigns to inform people of the benefits and dispel misinformation about the shots. In Missouri, the state health department recently posted a detailed fact sheet on the vaccine, answering common questions about safety and side effects, while also offering a “rumour control” section addressing falsehoods about the vaccine altering patient DNA and containing “tracking chips.”
Speaking with CNN late Friday, Anthony Fauci, the country’s leading infectious-disease expert, praised Vice President Mike Pence and other government officials for getting the vaccine publicly, a move he said could help alleviate concerns among some that the injection is unsafe.
“I think that was a good thing, representing to the community, to the people watching, that this is something that we all should do,” he said, “because if we get the majority of people in this country vaccinated we’re going to turn this around for sure.”
“One of the things you have to keep in mind is he received the monoclonal antibody when he was ill, so he still might have a very high level of antibody in his system, which you might want to wait a bit before you actually vaccinate him,” Dr Fauci said. “But ultimately he might want to get vaccinated.”
In more lighthearted CNN appearance Saturday, Dr Fauci offered a message to children who sent questions to the news network asking whether Santa Claus had been vaccinated, too. “I went there and I vaccinated Santa Claus myself,” he said. “He is good to go.”