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COVID-19 Response Team: Federal government has 2-3 day vaccine supply on hand, remainder sent to states

Anjalee Khemlani
·Senior Reporter
·4 min read
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The federal government is pivoting to ensure greater predictability and better reporting of vaccine distribution and administration, officials said Wednesday, but it still will be months before everyone who wants a vaccine can get one.

President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 response team offered both optimism and caution at the first of what is being billed as regular science-led briefings on the government’s response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The briefing Wednesday featured Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, new U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, former Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) administrator Andy Slavitt, head of the team, Jeffrey Zients, and head of the Health Equity Task Force, Marcella Nunez-Smith.

“This entire effort is not about big-blast goals, but it’s about day-to-day execution,” Slavitt said, when outlining key goals.

The team is focused on better reporting, including tracking where doses are in the logistics chain, as well as how quickly they are being administered.

“We need to add predictability to this process,” Slavitt said.

Slavitt explained that’s why the government is maintaining a small reserve of 2-3 days worth of shipments, “to account for manufacturing variation.”

He explained that doses produced does not immediately translate to doses ready to ship or doses that have been received by states and are ready for administration. Slavitt also noted, “Any stockpile that may have existed, no longer exists.”

The government has to-date shipped 47 million doses, and promises 10 million per week— a 16% increase from current shipments— for the next three weeks. That, he said, is a result of working with companies like Pfizer (PFE) and Moderna (MRNA) to increase their output.

Walensky said that the existing database looks at the vaccine supply, but not what is allocated or delivered or available for dispensing.

“Where that is in the pipeline ... varies by the day of the week,” she said, noting that over the next week, the team will focus on getting better real-time data.

That relies, in part, on states’ abilities to report more quickly. In addition, ensuring better reporting of vaccinations in minority communities is a key focus. So far, 16 states are reporting these details, according to Nunez-Smith.

In this Jan. 26, 2021, photo, President Joe Biden holds his face mask as he speaks on COVID-19, in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington. Biden is dispatching the nation’s top scientists and public health experts to regularly brief the American public about the pandemic. Beginning Jan. 27, the experts will host briefings three times a week on the state of the outbreak and efforts to control it. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
In this Jan. 26, 2021, photo, President Joe Biden holds his face mask as he speaks on COVID-19, in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington. Biden is dispatching the nation’s top scientists and public health experts to regularly brief the American public about the pandemic. Beginning Jan. 27, the experts will host briefings three times a week on the state of the outbreak and efforts to control it. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

While Biden has set the 100 million doses in 100 days goal, the team sees that as a minimum target, Slavitt said.

But some actions the team and the government need to take relies on Congress passing the funding, such as the ability to hire more clinicians to help with vaccinations.

In the meantime, Zeints said, the U.S. Health Department (HHS) will amend current regulations to allow retired doctors and nurses to administer shots, as well as to allow currently-licensed practitioners to administer shots across state lines.

“This action by HHS today will help get more vaccinators in the field,” he said.

In addition, the team is looking at ways to ramp-up community-based and mobile vaccination sites, and to remove out-of-pocket costs for vaccinations — plus covering travel and paid time off.

Meanwhile, the team is also tracking the virulent variants of the virus emerging globally. To date, more than 300 cases of the U.K. variant (B.1.1.7) and only one case of the Brazil variant (P.1) have been reported in the U.S., according to Walensky. No cases of the more concerning South African variant (B.1.351) are known.

All-told, the team anticipates other hurdles will replace current challenges.

“We’ve got a long way to go,” Slavitt said, noting supply and administration remain concerns.

“It will be months before everyone who wants a vaccine will be able to get one,” he said.

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