State and federal officials confirmed Friday that promise for a reserve supply of vaccines meant for second doses is actually unavailable.
A series of reports based on word from state and national officials Friday confirmed that a federal reserve of coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) vaccine doses, promised for distribution earlier this week, does not currently exist.
A report from The Washington Post Friday morning confirmed that a supposed reserve of doses for COVID-19 vaccines BNT162b2 and mRNA-1273—stated by Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar, MD, to be in stock for the second-dose administration of prioritized recipients earlier this week—was actually distributed at the end of December.
Unnamed sources told the publication that vaccine allocation will “remain flat” for the coming week, at a time when the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is reporting 36% of the 30.6 million COVID-19 vaccine doses distributed have been administered as of Thursday evening, with 1.3 million having received their second dose.
The matter of unavailable reserve vaccines—originally anticipated to be distributed to states in the same fashion as the first rounds of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccine doses—was confirmed by officials including Governor Kate Brown, of Oregon, who shared via Twitter her discussion with Operation Warp Speed Chief Operation Officer Gen. Gustave F. Perna on the matter.
“States will not be receiving increased shipments of vaccines from the national stockpile next week, because there is no federal reserve of doses,” Brown said.
Per The Washington Post, Pfizer-BioNTech second-dose stockpiling stopped at the end of the December, while Moderna’s stockpiling ended last weekend.
That said, there is no expectation that the lacking reserve would affect the projected goal of second-dose administrations, nor states’ overall access to vaccine distribution. It does, however, limit states’ ability to advance to next phases of vaccine priority groups—as federal guidance came this week advising states begin offering doses to adults aged 65 years and older, as well as frontline essential workers.
An HHS spokesperson stated in an email that just 75% of available doses have been ordered by states thus far.
“Operation Warp Speed has been monitoring manufacturing closely, and always intended to transition from holding second doses in reserve as manufacturing stabilizes and we gained confidence in the ability for a consistent flow of vaccines,” they wrote.
Operation Warp Speed Director Christopher Sharpsten further distanced the federal strategy from Azar’s statement on reserve supplies, calling it a false rumor that the government has been “holding back vaccine doses in warehouses to guarantee a second/booster dose.”
Last week, President-elect Joseph Biden, Jr. stated his administration will release all available COVID-19 vaccine doses immediately to states, emphasizing the need for more initial doses. He and his team also expressed intent to establish federally-run vaccination sites at large-capacity facilities to expedite rollout.
Though the 2 administrations’ contrasting strategies to vaccine distribution have been both scrutinized by the infectious disease expert community—at a time when deaths due to COVID-19 have surpassed 4000 daily—the US is currently leading all countries in total persons to receive at least 1 vaccine dose, as of Thursday.