In early March, Trump released a statement falsely asserting that he was primarily responsible for the shot’s rapid development.
“I hope everyone remembers when they’re getting the COVID-19 (often referred to as the China Virus) Vaccine, that if I wasn’t President, you wouldn’t be getting that beautiful ‘shot’ for 5 years, at best, and probably wouldn’t be getting it at all,” the statement said.
There is no evidence to suggest that Trump’s efforts would have shaved four or five years off from a COVID-19 vaccine being developed, Insider’s Tyler Sonnemaker previously wrote.
In November, Insider’s Mia Jankowicz reported that Trump was furious that President Joe Biden may get credit for the vaccines. He was reportedly upset that Biden would “steal” the plaudits from him, Jankowicz said.
Trump made the latest plea for credit at a speech to his most dedicated supporters during a Republican National Committee retreat.
Biotech companies are cutting ties with Moncef Slaoui, after the drug industry veteran was accused of sexual harassment and inappropriate conduct.
The allegations stem from Slaoui’s tenure at GlaxoSmithKline, the pharma company said in a statement on Wednesday. The company launched an investigation into the claims and substantiated them, GSK said.
Slaoui left GSK in 2017. Last year, he was tapped by President Donald Trump as the scientific head of the US vaccine effort, then known as Operation Warp Speed. He stepped down from that role in January at the request of the Biden administration.
On Wednesday, GSK said it fired Slaoui from the board of Galvani Bioelectronics, a startup in which it owns a majority stake. Slaoui also exited three other firms: Centessa Pharmaceuticals, Vaxcyte, and Medicxi.
In a statement late Wednesday, Slaoui apologized and said he was stepping back from his professional responsibilities.
“I have the utmost respect for my colleagues and feel terrible that my actions have put a former colleague in an uncomfortable situation. I would like to apologise unreservedly to the employee concerned and I am deeply sorry for any distress caused,” he said in the statement.
‘This simply should not have happened’
In a letter to GSK employees obtained by Insider, CEO Emma Walmsley said that the company received the sexual-harassment complaint in February and that the board “immediately initiated an investigation with an experienced law firm.”
“Protecting the woman who came forward and her privacy has been a critical priority throughout this time,” Walmsley wrote. “This will continue. I respect and admire her courage and strength. I’ve spent many nights lately putting myself in her shoes. More than anything, this simply should not have happened.”
Slaoui, who has a Ph.D. in molecular biology and immunology, spent nearly three decades ascending the ranks at GSK. Then he became well known as the face of the Trump administration’s ambitious effort to develop and mass-produce coronavirus vaccines. In January, he resigned at the request of President Joe Biden’s team.
Slaoui worked at GSK for almost 3 decades
Slaoui started at GSK in 1988 as a bench scientist. By 2006 he had joined GSK’s board of directors, and he oversaw the vaccines business starting in 2009. After retiring from GSK, Slaoui became a venture capitalist, joining the firm Medicxi as a partner in 2017.
Medicxi said on Thursday that Slaoui had stepped down from his role as a partner at the firm.
Vaxcyte, where Slaoui served as chairman, said it requested his resignation when it learned of the allegations against him. Centessa, a biotech startup, said Slaoui has left his role as chief scientific officer.
Slaoui also served on the board of coronavirus-vaccine maker Moderna from 2017 to 2020. In a statement, Moderna said it “was not aware of these or any other allegations of improper conduct by Dr. Slaoui.” The company declined to comment further.
Walmsley said in her memo that she was “shocked and angry about all of this, but I’m resolute.”
“We are in an age of progress with a female CEO, growing ranks of female leaders, new commitments to diverse representation, and a culture that values speaking up,” Walmsley wrote. “I expect everyone to represent GSK with integrity – especially senior leaders.”
A vaccine-research site in Rockville, Maryland, that opened in December 2016 and was named after Slaoui will be renamed, she added.
This article has been updated with Slaoui’s departures from Centessa, Vaxcyte, and Medicxi.
Former Trump administration economic advisor Larry Kudlow swore on live TV in a hot mic incident at his first day working for Fox.
Kudlow repeatedly said “bulls—” in response to claim by Vice President Kamala Harris that the Biden administration was “starting from scratch” in its vaccine distribution strategy.
Kudlow was appearing on “America Reports” Tuesday afternoon to tout his new Fox Business show which debuted that evening.
During the show a clip was played of an interview in which Harris criticised the lack of vaccine rollout plans from Kudlow’s colleagues in the Trump administration.
“We were leaving it to the states or local leaders to try and figure it out, and so in many ways we’re starting from scratch on something that’s been raging for almost an entire year,” Harris said in the interview with Axios.
While the clip played, Kudlow, who was not longer on screen but whose mic had not been switched off, could be heard repeating “bulls—! bulls—! bulls—!”
His response starts around 45 seconds into this clip:
On Monday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called on pharmaceutical company Pfizer to sell doses of its coronavirus vaccine directly to New York state.
The proposal to work directly with New York’s state government would require Pfizer to bypass the federal government’s Operation Warp Speed campaign to vaccinate hundreds of millions of Americans.
“The distribution of any doses obtained directly from Pfizer will follow the rigorous guidance the State has established, while enabling us to fill the dosage gap created this week by the outgoing federal administration,” Cuomo wrote in a letter to Pfizer.
Pfizer told Insider in an email on Monday that before being able to sell vaccines directly to US states, the Department of Health and Human Services would have to sign off on the plan.
“Pfizer is open to collaborating with HHS on a distribution model that gives as many Americans as possible access to our vaccine as quickly as possible,” the firm told Insider.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called on pharmaceutical company Pfizer to sell doses of its coronavirus vaccine directly to New York state, in the hopes of accelerating a process that has languished in recent weeks.
The request would require Pfizer to circumvent the federal government’s Operation Warp Speed – a campaign to produce and distribute some 300 million doses to Americans in an effort to end the pandemic – and deal directly with Cuomo’s state administration.
“Because you are not bound by commitments that Moderna made as part of Operation Warp Speed, I am requesting that the State of New York be permitted to directly purchase doses from you,” Cuomo wrote on Monday in a letter to Albert Bourla, the chairman and CEO of Pfizer, which is headquartered in New York City.
“The distribution of any doses obtained directly from Pfizer will follow the rigorous guidance the State has established, while enabling us to fill the dosage gap created this week by the outgoing federal administration,” Cuomo added. “All of this will further our goal to vaccinate 70 to 90% of New Yorkers as soon as possible and reach herd immunity.”
Before being able to sell its vaccine directly to individual US states, Pfizer told Insider that the firm would first require approval from the Department of Health and Human Services
“We appreciate Governor Cuomo’s kind words and the pride he expressed in his letter that Pfizer is a New York-headquartered company,” the firm told Insider in an email on Monday. “Pfizer is open to collaborating with HHS on a distribution model that gives as many Americans as possible access to our vaccine as quickly as possible,” the company added, but noted that it would need the green light from the HHS before such a sale could take place.
As of Monday evening, more than 645,000 vaccines had been distributed in the state of New York, according to the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University.
That’s roughly 3.3% of New York’s statewide population, which was determined to be nearly 19.5 million, according to 2019 US Census Bureau data.
Last spring, New York was one of the hardest-hit states nationwide in the early stages of the pandemic
So far, the state has recorded more than 1.24 million confirmed COVID cases and nearly 41,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
In his letter on Monday, Cuomo warned that hospitalizations and deaths are once again “increasing across the country this winter,” putting Americans in a “footrace with the virus.”
“We will lose unless we dramatically increase the number of doses getting to New Yorkers,” Cuomo wrote, noting that New Yorkers are on track to receive just 250,000 vaccine doses this week, which is down from last week’s numbers.
Pfizer developed its two-dose vaccine in tandem with the pharmaceutical company BioNTech. The vaccine was first approved for use in the US by the Food and Drug Administration on December 11, as a preventive tool against COVID-19 – a disease that has thwarted US public health measures for nearly a year, and claimed the lives of nearly 400,000 Americans.
Representatives for Gov. Cuomo’s office did not immediately return a request for comment from Insider on Monday evening.
The head of the World Health Organization warned of inequities in global vaccine distribution on Monday
On the same day as Cuomo’s request, the director-general of the World Health Organization issued a stark warning about a burgeoning threat he sees which could impact efforts to vaccinate vulnerable people worldwide.
“It is not right that younger, healthier adults in rich countries are vaccinated before health workers and older people in poorer countries,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, speaking during a WHO executive board session.
“More than 39 million doses of vaccine have now been administered in at least 49 higher-income countries, but just 25 doses have been given in one lowest-income country,” Tedros said. He said that the disparity in vaccine availability in rich and poor nations had pushed the world to “the brink of catastrophic moral failure.”
As roll-outs of coronavirus vaccines including those created by pharmaceuticals companies Pfizer and Moderna have languished in the US in recent weeks, Tedros hasn’t been the only world leader to shine a light on the crisis.
President-elect Joe Biden warned in late December that, at the current pace, it would “take years, not months, to vaccinate the American people.”
Biden said that, once in office, he’d invoke federal powers including the Defense Production Act to accelerate vaccine production in an effort to meet growing demand.
One order of business the new president will inherit when he is sworn into office Wednesday will be how to stitch together a more cohesive federal response to the pandemic. A lack of a single coordinated effort has stymied some state administrations as they have tried to get on the same page about how best to control the disease.
In New York, Cuomo seemed to express frustration toward what he called “shifting guidance” from the CDC in regard to who should receive the vaccine first in his state.
“Shifting guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention drove the number of New Yorkers eligible and prioritized for the vaccine from 5 million to 7 million practically overnight,” Cuomo wrote in his letter to Pfizer’s Bourla. “The federal administration essentially opened up a floodgate while cutting our supply – leading to confusing, frustrating, and dashed hopes.”
Around 260 million Americans are eligible to receive coronavirus vaccines, but procuring a shot may be easy or difficult, depending on where they live.
US federal officials recommended Tuesday to expand vaccinations to all Americans ages 65 and older. Many states haven’t finished vaccinating their first priority groups, which mainly include healthcare workers and nursing home residents. Some states have also prioritized vaccinations for frontline essential workers or individuals with health problems that raise their risk of severe disease.
Operation Warp Speed, the federal government’s coronavirus vaccine initiative, recently advised states to vaccinate these priority groups in tandem in situations where vaccine supply exceeds demand or doses might expire. Warp Speed officials have also pushed states to begin deploying vaccines at pharmacies, community health centers, and mass vaccination sites.
That’s a daunting challenge for many states with understaffed or underfunded health departments – though an $8.7 billion coronavirus relief package will soon assist states with vaccine distribution issues. States have also struggled to oversee mass vaccinations while simultaneously dealing with an unprecedented surge of coronavirus cases that has overwhelmed hospitals.
Here are the states where it’s easiest and most difficult to get a shot, based on the number of doses administered per capita.
West Virginia leads the country in vaccinations per capita. As of Monday, none of the state’s doses were sitting on shelves.
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice told CNBC on Monday that 100% of the state’s vaccine supply was either in people’s arms or had been tagged for a specific individual who would receive the shot in the coming days.
The state has also vaccinated all of its nursing home residents and staff, as well as those in assisted living, Justice said. That’s because West Virginia didn’t rely on a federal partnership with CVS and Walgreens to start vaccinating these individuals on December 21. Instead, it partnered with local pharmacies and deployed its National Guard to get nursing home vaccinations underway about five days earlier.
The state is also offering 14 vaccination clinics this week for individuals 70 and older. The first of these clinics opened on January 7.
As of Wednesday, West Virginia had administered more than 6,600 doses for every 100,000 people, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
South Dakota has administered 6,100 doses for every 100,000 people.
Around 4.5% of the state’s population had been vaccinated as of Wednesday. So far, South Dakota has prioritized vaccinations for healthcare workers, nursing home residents, law enforcement, and correctional officers, but the state plans to extend vaccines to residents over 80 starting January 18. From there, it will open up doses to people 65 and older.
Health officials have attributed the state’s successful rollout to strong partnerships with local stakeholders, including three major health systems: Avera, Monument, and Sanford.
“We sat down with the other healthcare systems and the state of South Dakota and mapped out — county by county — which system is vaccinating which county,” Dr. Mike Wilde, chief medical officer at Sanford, told The Mercury News.
Alaska was quick to vaccinate elderly residents after a shortage of demand among healthcare workers.
Alaska opened up vaccination clinics for healthcare workers at the end of December — only to find that there were appointments left over after a few days. The state took it as a sign to move on to its next priority group: people age 65 and older.
“We just said, ‘OK, let’s keep moving forward,'” Dr. Anne Zink, the state’s chief medical officer, told Alaska Public Media.
Starting January 6, Alaska began allowing people 65 and older to sign up for appointments online. Many of the state’s vaccine providers have registered with PrepMod, a website that connects residents to local vaccination sites.
Appointments for elderly residents in Alaska have been ongoing since Monday. The state has administered 5,800 doses for every 100,000 residents so far.
North Dakota’s vaccine rollout benefited from early planning.
The state has administered more than 5,600 doses for every 100,000 people, even after receiving fewer doses than health officials had anticipated. In addition to shipping doses to hospitals, North Dakota also delivered them to healthcare providers straight away.
“We are able to break down COVID-19 vaccine shipments into smaller quantities to get vaccines to rural areas of the state, where many healthcare providers are located,” the state’s health department told Becker’s Hospital Review.
The department added that “healthcare providers were trained regarding the COVID-19 vaccines before they were authorized for use in the United States, which allowed for vaccines to be administered immediately.”
Like West Virginia, North Dakota also didn’t rely on the federal government’s partnership with CVS and Walgreens to vaccinate nursing home residents. Nearly 60% of the state’s long-term care facilities didn’t participate in the program, meaning they received their shots either directly from the state warehouse or through independent pharmacies and public-health agencies.
Warp Speed officials have also heralded the speedy rollout in Connecticut.
Local health officials say there are multiple reasons for Connecticut’s successful rollout. One is seamless communication between hospitals and Gov. Ned Lamont’s office, which engage in weekly calls. Hospitals have also helped one another by sharing doses if a facility falls short of demand, or finding healthcare workers to vaccinate if extra doses are available.
Josh Geballe, Connecticut’s chief operating officer, told the Hartford Courant that the state is attempting to strike a balance between “micromanagement and the wild west.” That means expanding vaccinations to first responders or residents ages 75 or older if there’s a surplus of shots at the end of the day. Many of the state’s vaccine providers keep a waitlist of these individuals so they can call upon them quickly to get vaccinated.
Starting Monday, Connecticut will begin vaccinating individuals 75 and older as part of its routine schedule. A state phone line will help coordinate appointments, but large healthcare systems are also being asked to reach out to residents and schedule appointments on their own.
Alabama’s vaccine rollout, on the other hand, has fallen short. Fewer than 1,900 doses for every 100,000 residents have been given out so far.
Alabama’s public health officer, Dr. Scott Harris, told local news channel WRBL that the state’s vaccine supply was actually smaller than had been reported by the federal government.
“We absolutely acknowledge that we need to be doing this faster. Although, I take issue with the numbers being reported,” he said on Wednesday. “Alabama supposedly has allocation of 300-and-something-thousand doses. We have actually only received about 270,000 doses in our state.”
The state also has a large rural population — around 45% of residents live in rural areas, making it difficult to find centralized locations to deliver shots.
“Administering a vaccine in rural Alabama is not about pulling up to a Walmart parking lot,” John McGuinness, former state surgeon for the Alabama National Guard, told The Washington Post. “This amounts to a military campaign, moving from town to town and gathering demographics, relying on local leaders and being comprehensive in that way.”
Georgia has also struggled to put shots into arms.
The state has administered less than a quarter of the doses it has received so far. For every 100,000 residents, only 2,200 doses have been given out.
Like Alabama, Georgia has run into issues with vaccinating residents in rural areas. Dr. Kathleen Toomey, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health, told local news channel 11Alive that some residents were wary of taking the vaccine.
Staffing shortages at local hospitals may have further slowed the vaccination process.
Georgia also ran into technical issues when it opened up appointments to people 65 and older on Monday. An online registration form for two counties, Cobb and Douglas, crashed. Phone lines jammed. And several district health departments were eventually forced to stop taking appointment requests.
South Carolina hospitals have encountered a lack of demand among healthcare workers.
At the start of its vaccine rollout, South Carolina stipulated that 70% of eligible healthcare workers and nursing home residents needed to be vaccinated before moving on to the next priority groups. But by early January, local hospitals said not all healthcare workers were taking advantage of the available doses, and some vaccines appointments remained empty.
On January 5, Gov. Henry McMaster told healthcare workers they had 10 days to get a shot or “move to the back of the line.”
South Carolina has administered fewer than 2,300 doses for every 100,000 residents, according to the CDC, but some hospital officials say that data could be behind.
Patrick Cawley, vice president for health affairs at the Medical University of South Carolina, told The State that the federal government’s reporting system was slowing down his center’s ability to record vaccinations in real time. Indeed, for many states, the number of reported vaccinations typically lags 24 to 72 hours behind those that have actually been administered.
Idaho planned for more doses than it received in December.
Out of every 100,000 Idaho residents, fewer than 2,400 doses have been given out. At that rate, it could take three years to vaccinate all of the state’s 1.8 million residents.
But Idaho officials were thrown for a curve in December, when the state received far fewer doses than it had anticipated. Idaho’s vaccine supply for the week of December 21 was cut by 44%. Gov. Brad Little urged residents at the time to “be patient with the distribution.”
Technical glitches slowed down vaccination appointments in Arizona.
Arizona ran into issues with scheduling appointments for healthcare workers at the start of its vaccine rollout. In Maricopa, the state’s most populous county, the health department website directed residents to vaccination sites well outside their immediate area. The system also had trouble downloading insurance information or following up with individuals about their second doses.
County representatives told local radio station KJZZ that the error “slowed down the entire vaccine operation and put us days behind” in delivering shots.
Though the state has expanded its rollout to more priority groups, Arizona has administered fewer than 2,400 doses for every 100,000 residents. On Monday, residents said they were having trouble making appointments through the Arizona Department of Health Services website, likely due to heavy online traffic.
The state’s healthcare system is also overburdened by a tsunami of coronavirus patients, meaning there aren’t enough staffers to administer shots. By the end of December, NBC News reported, four out of five doses were sitting on shelves, waiting for someone to administer them.
The CDC unveiled an interactive vaccine-tracking map on Thursday.
The map shows how many vaccine doses each state has been allocated and how many shots each has administered so far.
The totals tell a grim story: The US fell far short of its goal to vaccinate 20 million people by the end of 2020. At its current pace, it would take the country 9 years to vaccinate the whole population.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention unveiled major updates to its vaccine tracking dashboard on Thursday, including an interactive map that shows how vaccine distribution and administration is going in every US state and territory.
Previously, the website tracked only two broad measurements of US COVID-19 vaccination efforts: doses distributed and doses administered in total nationwide.
Now, the tracker lists the following details for each state: total doses distributed, total doses distributed per 100,000 people, and the number of people who have received their first dose. It also includes information on how many doses have been distributed and allocated in total, as well as how many doses have been distributed to and administered in long-term care facilities. You can access the map here.
The tracker is slated get updated on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, except for holidays (in those cases, the tracker will be updated the day after a holiday).
At its current pace, it would take the US 9 years to vaccinate everyone
So far, the numbers in the CDC tracker tell an unfortunate story: the US has fallen far short of the Trump administration’s goal to get vaccines to 20 million people by the end of 2020.
Only about 2.8 million people in the US have gotten their first vaccine dose. That’s about 14% of what Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s coronavirus vaccine initiative, predicted in mid-November. The true number of Americans vaccinated is likely a bit higher than the dashboard shows, however, since it takes time for the CDC to aggregate and process local data.
Several states, including South Dakota and Connecticut, have distributed over 40% of the vaccines they’ve been allocated so far. But others, including California and Ohio, have administered less than 20%. Kansas has only administered about 10.5% of its allocated doses.
A combination of factors is to blame for these delays. For one, distribution and administration plans were left to states, but local public-health agencies are overwhelmed with other elements of pandemic management, since cases and deaths are at all-time highs and staff are exhausted. The US saw 229,000 new cases and 3,744 deaths – a new record – on Wednesday alone.
A lack of federal funding for state vaccination programs has also contributed. In Seattle, health officials have so little funding for COVID-19 efforts that they’re worried they’ll have to choose between testing and vaccinations, according to Reuters. The aid package Congress recently passed allots $8 billion for vaccine distribution, however.
Then there’s the challenge of storing Pfizer’s vaccine at the necessary ultra-low temperatures. And on top of all that, some states, including Oregon, Iowa, and Maryland, have received fewer doses than they anticipated.
“The effort to distribute and administer the vaccine is not progressing as it should,” Biden said in Wilmington, Delaware. At the current rate, he said, “it’s going to take years, not months, to vaccinate the American people.”
Biden said he wants to ramp up the current pace to at least 1 million shots per day; right now, it’s averaging only about 200,000 per day. Based on the US population of 330.7 million according to the US Census Bureau, it would take the US over 3,300 days – just over 9 years – to inject everyone with two doses at the current rate.
President Donald Trump defended his administration’s actions after Biden’s remarks.
“It is up to the states to distribute the vaccines once brought to the designated areas by the federal government,” he said on Twitter. “We have not only developed the vaccines, including putting up money to move the process along quickly, but gotten them to the states.”
The US is nowhere close to meeting its coronavirus vaccination goal for the end of 2020, raising concerns about how long it will take to immunize a vast majority of the American public and curb the pandemic.
Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s coronavirus vaccine initiative, predicted 20 million Americans would get a coronavirus shot by year’s end. Just less than 2.8 million people have received their first injections as of Wednesday morning, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the US has shipped out about 12.4 million doses.
On a call with reporters on Wednesday, Warp Speed officials acknowledged that the rollout was running behind schedule. Just an hour before the CDC provided updated vaccine data, Warp Speed officials said they didn’t know how many shots had been given to date, but acknowledged that the number was short of their goal.
“We agree that number is lower than we hoped for,” Moncef Slaoui, Warp Speed’s chief scientific advisor, said on the press call.
At the current pace of vaccinations, it would take years for the US to immunize enough people to end the pandemic, Dr. Leana Wen, former Baltimore health commissioner, said Monday on CNN.
“For us to reach 80% herd immunity through vaccination, it will take us 10 years at a rate of 1 million vaccines a week,” she said. “Or, put in a different way, if we want to get there within six months, we have to be doing 3.5 million vaccinations a day, not 1 million a week.”
Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters on Wednesday that she expects the pace of vaccinations to increase after the holidays. She said some places planned for a “more measured” start to their vaccine campaigns before ramping up.
“I really expect that those numbers are going to increase fast next week,” she said on a call with reporters.
The US Defense Department and Gen. Gustave Perna are leading Warp Speed’s distribution plan, and states are ultimately responsible for administering the shots and deciding who gets them.
In the absence of clear federal guidance, the vaccine rollout has devolved into a patchwork response that varies by state, said Dr. Marissa Levine, a public-health professor at the University of South Florida, told Business Insider.
Local health officials have been tasked with coordinating vaccination timelines while caring for sick patients. Many health departments lack the funding to hire enough staff to administer doses in large waves. Others lack the expertise to seamlessly transfer thousands of doses from local warehouses to the arms of individuals – what experts call the “last-mile” challenge.
“A plan that took the nation as a whole into consideration probably would have been a more effective way to approach it,” Josh Michaud, associate director of global health policy at the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation, told Business Insider.
Deferring to local authorities has defined other aspects of the US pandemic response, including ramping up testing and scrambling to secure personal protective equipment. With vaccines, however, the US has had almost a year to prepare.
“It seems like we’re playing a lot of catch-up, and a lot more prep work could have been done earlier on to address the many things that are leading to our patchwork rollout right now,” Michaud said.
Vaccine rollout was never going to be easy
The process of delivering shots to healthcare workers and long-term care facility residents – among the first in line to be vaccinated in the US – wasn’t likely to happen overnight.
Before any shipments went out, the US Food and Drug Administration took two days to assess each one for quality control, CNN reported. Then came the delicate labyrinth of unpacking each box, taking inventory of the vaccine, and preparing each dose for injection. In Pfizer’s case, the vials must be stored at ultra-cold temperatures, then thawed and diluted.
That has posed a particular challenge for reaching healthcare workers at small, rural providers. Some states like Minnesota,Wisconsin, and Michigan only started to immunize nursing home residents this week.
But public-health experts say the lagging vaccine timeline wasn’t inevitable.
Levine said each state must demonstrate preparedness for public-health emergencies as part of a yearly CDC grant distributed to health departments.
“Every state has already planned for this,” she said. “The question is how have they adjusted it for the specifics of COVID and these first couple of weeks and months where you have limited a vaccine are the biggest test.”
If states had been given more funding or guidance early on, Levine added, they may have had an easier time preparing for a vaccine rollout. As it stands, several health authorities made questionable choices during the first few weeks of vaccine distribution.
Health officials in Williamson County, Texas, for instance, closed their offices for Christmas without administering any of the 900 doses they had recently received, the Texas Tribune’s Shawn Mulcahy reported.
Several healthcare workers have also reported that some administrative officials are getting vaccinated ahead of those who work directly with COVID-19 patients. The vaccine rollout in Maricopa County, Arizona, was “a bit disorganized and ripe for exploitation” one local doctor told NPR, after rumors circulated that anyone with access to a certain link or phone number could get a vaccine appointment.
“We’re seeing people kind of making up their own decisions without any ethical framework,” Levine said. “That’s a worst-case scenario, because then the people with the most power or connections are more likely to get vaccine, which is the most inequitable way to do what we need to do.”
Warp Speed’s shifting milestone
As recently as early December, Warp Speed leaders expressed confidence that they’d immunize 20 million Americans by the end of 2020, 30 million more in January and 50 million more in February. But the program’s early struggles and slow start raise questions about these projections.
By December 19, more than two dozen states said they would be getting 30% or 40% fewer doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 shot than they initially planned for the following week. Perna, Warp Speed’s chief operating officer, said the miscommunication was his fault: Supply estimates he previously gave to states turned out to be incorrect.
“I failed,” Perna said at a December 19 press conference. “I am adjusting, I am fixing, and we will move forward from there.”
This isn’t the first time the US government has failed to meet its lofty, publicly-stated goals. When Warp Speed launched in May, the initiative aspired to deliver 300 million doses by the end of 2020.
Top federal officials have repeatedly scaled that number back. In August, Alex Azar, Secretary of Health and Human Services, lowered the year-end projection to “the high tens of millions of doses.”
“They appear to be overpromising and underdelivering,” Michaud said.
On Wednesday, Warp Speed’s Slaoui spoke narrowly to his confidence that future estimates will hold true on manufacturing and shipping doses, but not necessarily in administering the shots.
“From an availability standpoint, there is no issue,” he said. “From an administration standpoint, I concur with Gen. Perna that there is a learning curve into the system, and we’re going through it.”
Like testing data, reported vaccinations lag behind the number of immunizations that have already taken place.
Both Pfizer and Moderna are confident they can deliver hundreds of millions of doses in 2021 as manufacturing is now being ramped up. Warp Speed has already struck supply deals with each drugmaker to secure hundreds of millions of doses in 2021.
“The distribution process at the national level seems to be robust,” Levine said. “Unless we have huge weather issues, with the holidays behind us, hopefully we’ll be able to work relatively seamlessly.”
Challenges at the local level could also be eased by the recently passed coronavirus relief package, which gives states about $8 billion to help with distribution. That money “would have been helpful to have six months ago, but it’s better late than never,” Michaud said.
He added that states could use the funds to hire and train more workers, set up mass-administration sites, and design and launch communication campaigns to educate the public and listen to common concerns.
Joe Biden, who will become president on January 20, has set a goal of giving coronavirus vaccines to 100 million people in his first 100 days in office. That’s in line with Warp Speed’s timeline, but Biden has said he’ll need more funding from Congress to hit the target.
Michaud said that vaccine distribution will get more challenging as it expands beyond the initial priority groups.
“I’m not seeing a uniformly concise and clear communication about how to get vaccine as it’s being rolled out in a more public forum outside of, say, hospital personnel,” Levine added. “People need to know how to get the vaccine, when to get the vaccine, who should get the vaccine, and then how those decisions are being made.”
Update: This story has been updated with new vaccination statistics from the CDC. It was originally published on December 30.
The co-leader of the US government’s coronavirus vaccine initiative claimed personal responsibility on Saturday for widespread confusion among state leaders about how many coronavirus vaccine doses they will receive.
Over the past couple of days, more than two dozen states have said they are getting 30% or 40% fewer doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 shot next week than they were expecting. General Gustave Perna, Operation Warp Speed’s chief operating officer, said the miscommunication was his fault. Supply estimates he previously gave to states for planning turned out to be incorrect, Perna said.
“To the governors, to the governors’ staffs, please accept my personal apology if this was disruptive in your decision-making and in your conversations with the people of your great state,” Perna said at a press conference.
The four-star general expressed confidence in the vaccination campaign overall, however. Even with the number adjustments, Warp Speed will ship 7.9 million vaccine doses next week, with deliveries starting Monday at more than 3,700 sites across the country.
“There is no problem with the process, there is no problem with the Pfizer vaccine, there is no problem with the Moderna vaccine,” Perna said. “It was a planning error, and I am responsible.”
“I failed,” he later added. “I am adjusting, I am fixing, and we will move forward from there.”
The recent confusion about states’ supply estimates and timelines mainly stems from the complexity of the manufacturing process.
Even when vaccine doses are manufactured and ready to be shipped, they still need to meet quality-control requirements before being released. Perna said the inflated estimates he gave states were a result of his own misunderstanding of the difference between doses manufactured and doses ready to be released.
In his Saturday press conference, Perna also made a slight tweak to Warp Speed’s delivery goals for December.
Federal officials had previously said they were on track to give 20 million Americans their first shots before the year’s end. (Both vaccines are two-dose regimens – Pfizer’s second shot comes after 21 days and Moderna’s second dose follows 28 days after the first.) But on Saturday, Perna said that although Warp Speed is on track to allocate 20 million doses to states by the end of December, the distribution of those doses will be pushed into early January.
It’s not the first time Warp Speed has failed to meet its own lofty aims. The initiative launched in May with the initial goal of delivering 300 million doses by the end of 2020. Over time, officials have quietly walked that back.
Alex Azar, Secretary of Health and Human Services, said in August that the year-end projection would be lowered to “the high tens of millions of doses” instead of 300 million. Since then, “high tens of millions” has been reduced to 20 million people – less than 10% of the original goal.
Now, it appears Warp Speed may fall slightly short of even that figure. Last week, 2.9 million doses were shipped, and 7.9 million more are set to ship this week. That means the initiative would need to deliver 9.2 million doses in the final week of December, which is unlikely.
Plus, that doesn’t account for the time it takes to administer the vaccine; that responsibility falls to state and local leaders.
Warp Speed isn’t yet providing data on how many Americans have been vaccinated. Azar said officials are working to set up a public dashboard that conveys real-time information on allocation and immunization decisions, but it’s unclear when that will go live.
Despite miscommunications and fluctuating estimates, vaccinations are still set to ramp up
Perna defended Warp Speed’s overall achievements on Saturday, noting that the US is only the country that has authorized and is distributing two coronavirus vaccines. Both shots were found to be safe and overwhelmingly effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19 in late-stage clinical trials.
Despite the supply revisions, Warp Speed is still on track to deliver more than 10 million doses to US states by Christmas Day. Quantities should ramp up week-over-week from there, officials have said, allowing 30 million more Americans to get a shot in January and 50 million more in February.
“It’s been just 10 months since we’ve been on the defense against this virus,” Perna said Saturday. “It is time to turn the table.”
Good news about coronavirus vaccines keeps rolling in.
On Friday, Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine became the first candidate to receive emergency authorization in the US. The day before, an advisory committee to the Food and Drug Administration recommended the shot for widespread use in peoples ages 16 and older.
Moderna’s shot could be next: The company applied for an emergency use authorization (EUA) from the FDA on November 30. From there, an FDA advisory committee will determine if the vaccine meets their recommendation standards.
But the big question still remains: When can Americans get their shots?
Here are the key milestones ahead before vaccines reach the public
December 14: Americans could start receiving Pfizer’s vaccine as early as Monday morning, when the first hospitals, clinics, and public health systems are scheduled to receive their shipments. An advisory committee to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that frontline healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities get priority access.
December 17: An FDA advisory committee made up of independent scientific experts will meet to evaluate Moderna’s EUA request. The meeting will be streamed on the FDA website and on its YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter channels. Moderna will present its safety and efficacy data, then answer questions. After that, the advisory committee will make a recommendation on whether to greenlight the vaccine.
December 18: The FDA is likely to follow the committee’s advice, and the vaccine could be authorized within 24 hours, or perhaps a few days later.
By December 21: Moderna shots might not be available until four days after the FDA advisory meeting, given the time it takes to greenlight and ship the vaccines.
That means vaccinations for the nation’s 21 million healthcare workers and 3 million residents of long-term care facilities could last through January 2021.
Slaoui estimated that the US could immunize 100 million people by the end of February. That would require another 60 million doses to be distributed in January, followed by 100 million in February.
By April, vaccines could start being distributed to young, healthy Americans.
Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel recently told Business Insider that any American who wants a vaccine should have access to one by Memorial Day. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, has also said that the general population could have access to shots by late spring and early summer.
But those timelines could vary depending on whether additional vaccine candidates besides Pfizer’s and Moderna’s get emergency authorization.
AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine, developed in partnership with the University of Oxford, was found to be 70% effective on average in late-stage clinical trials with more than 20,000 volunteers in the UK and Brazil. The results varied depending on the dosage: A regimen that included two full doses at least one month apart was found to be 62% effective. When volunteers were given a half-dose, followed by a full dose, the effectiveness rose to 90%.
The company still hasn’t concluded its US trial, which was delayed for more than a month, but resumed in October. The more vaccine trials that report success, the sooner shots can be widely distributed to the public.
What about other vaccine candidates?
Operation Warp Speed has purchased 100 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine and another 200 million doses of Moderna’s.
Slaoui told Bloomberg in November that the program expects to distribute 400 to 450 million vaccine doses from now through May. “Plan A,” he added, is to distribute vaccines from two other companies – AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson – to help reach that goal.
Slaoui told Business Insider in October that he expects AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson’s US trials to produce results in December or January. That could put them on track for authorization this winter. The US has already purchased 100 million doses from each company.
“Plan B,” Slaoui told Bloomberg, is to order additional doses from Pfizer and Moderna. Agreements with the companies allow the US to acquire another 500 million doses from Pfizer and another 300 million doses from Moderna should it so choose.
The remaining two vaccine candidates backed by Warp Speed come from Novavax and a Sanofi/GlaxoSmithKline partnership. If the companies have trouble finding enough Americans to join their trials once a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine hits the market, Slaoui told Bloomberg, the trials might recruit volunteers in other countries. Both are expected to release pivotal data about their vaccine candidates in early 2021.
If those two vaccines get authorized – that would most likely happen in the spring – the US is prepared to distribute 100 million doses of each as well.
In a recent NPR interview, Fauci said additional vaccine candidates besides Pfizer’s and Moderna’s “are going to be essential if we want to get enough vaccine to give to everyone who would need it or want it in the country.”
This story has been updated with new information about Pfizer’s authorization and Moderna’s EUA application. It was originally published on November 25.
Perna, a four-star general, stands at the forefront of the mammoth logistical challenge to immunize a nation of 328 million. He likened the challenge to D-Day, a crucial turning point in World War II that sparked the liberation fo German-occupied France.
“D-Day was the beginning of the end, and that’s where we are today,” Perna said at a Saturday morning news conference.
But the end remains in the distant future, with the worst days of the pandemic likely still ahead. Infections, hospitalizations, and deaths have all surged over the past two months, routinely setting new record highs. On Friday, the US recorded 2,951 deaths and 280,514 new cases.
“We are not taking a victory lap,” Perna said. “We know that the road ahead of us will be tough. We know that situations will occur, but we will figure it out together collectively.”
Sites will receive doses starting Monday
The first shipments are expected to leave Pfizer’s manufacturing plant in Kalamazoo, Michigan, on Sunday morning. Perna said he expects 145 sites – encompassing every US state – to receive doses on Monday.
Perna said 425 more sites should receive shipments on Tuesday, and the final 66 sites will get the vaccine on Wednesday. That will complete an initial shipment of 2.9 million doses of Pfizer’s shot, with Warp Speed holding back another 2.9 million doses to ensure each immunized person can get a second booster dose 21 days later.
From there, local officials from states, counties, and cities will take the lead. Perna said vaccines could be going into people’s arms “as early as the end of next week.”
States will determine how to prioritize the initial vaccine doses
Perna said Saturday he has talked to many states that plan to start vaccinating those two populations simultaneously to start.
Overall, Warp Speed is expecting to soon start shipping doses of another vaccine developed by Moderna. The FDA’s expert panel will debate Moderna’s emergency use authorization application next Thursday, likely setting up agency scientists to make an equally speedy review decision.
Based on supply estimates from Pfizer and Moderna, Warp Speed projects that 20 million Americans will begin to be immunized in December, 30 million more in January, and 50 million more in February.
“We are not done until every American has access to this vaccine, until every American that wants it, receives it,” Perna said. “This is our only goal.”