States Scramble for Vaccines as Federal Government Announce Reduced Doses

Jason Lin

With the approval of vaccines for emergency use against Covid-19, a merry spirit of salvation and holiday seems to encompass 2020’s end. However, during the week of Dec 19, this spirit was replaced by dread as states received a scathing announcement from the federal government.  States would be receiving 20-40% less vaccine than what was originally planned a week ago. This sent states into a frenzy as they scrambled to plan what to do with the significantly reduced doses. With infections reaching over 18 million people and deaths hitting a sobering 323,000.  What reason could possibly justify such delay of this crucial, life-saving cure? 


A week prior, states received information based on the number of vaccines being produced throughout the United States. Under operation warp-speed, the original plan was for the distribution of all the above-mentioned vaccines. However, this was revealed to be false when Wednesday’s vaccine number report finally reached the states. Gen. Gustave Perna, chief operating officer of operation warp speed publicly announced that the hiccup was his fault.  Perna explained that he had not taken into consideration the time it would take for the completed vaccine to go through the Food and Drug Administration quality control process.  The FDA requires certificates of analysis for every batch of vaccines before they can be distributed outside of manufacturing.  As such, the issue was one of misallocation rather than a production deficit. Nevertheless, the consequences are projected to be immeasurable.


Claire Hannan, executive director of the Association of Immunization Managers, states that ‘”The planning piece is critical. We cannot roll this vaccine out on the fly.”’. Following the confirmation of delays, states were forced into a very precarious position. They have just a few days to plan the adequate distribution of a significantly reduced number of vaccines. For example, Washington state was told and reconfirmed time and time again that they would be receiving 74,100 vaccine doses during the week of Christmas. As of Wednesday, this figure dropped to 44,850 vaccines.  Every vaccine lost is a potential life lost. As such, states are now being forced to pick and choose who lives or dies. The long-term consequences of which could leave tens of thousands of more people dead.  


However, the damages of this misinformation reach beyond simply the loss of vaccines. This discrepancy represents a major breakdown in states trust of the federal government’s vaccine program “The number one question you have if you’re in a state vaccination program is: ‘How many doses do I have?’ Everything you do flows from the answer to that one question,” states Dr. Kelly Moore, associate director of immunization education with the Immunization Action Coalition. While the states could trust the federal government’s figures and estimates in the past. Now they are in a state of perpetual confusion at how such a possibility could occur in the first place. Moving forward, it is likely that states will be both more suspicious and distrusting of government healthcare programs and policies. After all, if simple analytical data on vaccine numbers isn’t foolproof. What else could be at risk of being wrong?


While the Covid-19 storm will certainly rage on, there is still hope along the horizon. On Friday night, Moderna received FDA approval for its Covid-19 vaccine. In addition, Pfizer stated on Thursday that they have not faced any production issues and have millions of vaccines stocked up awaiting further instructions. Combined, the companies can amass the shipment of 7.9 million vaccines by next week. A much-needed reimbursement of reinforcements in the everlasting war against Covid-19. By year’s end, the US government projects to distribute around 20 million doses of vaccine to the states. Hopefully, it will go right this time.