Just a few days into the historic rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine, there have already been some hitches and confusion over when and how many doses will be distributed in the coming weeks.
Several governors have reported that half as many Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine shots as expected are going to be delivered in the next few weeks and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has suggested that Pfizer is having manufacturing problems.
The federal Department of Health and Human Services, however, released a statement Thursday denying the number of doses are being reduced.
“Reports that jurisdictions’ allocations are being reduced are incorrect,” an HHS spokesperson said in a statement. “As was done with the initial shipments of Pfizer vaccine, jurisdictions will receive vaccine at different sites over several days.”
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This, the spokesperson said, “eases the burden on the jurisdictions and spreads the workload across multiple days.”
Meanwhile, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla insisted via Twitter on Thursday that the company is “not having any production issues with our Covid-19 vaccine, and no shipments containing the vaccine are on hold or delayed.”
“This week, we successfully shipped all 2.9 million doses that we were asked to ship by the U.S. Government to the locations specified by them,” an official Pfizer statement read. “We have millions more doses sitting in our warehouse but, as of now, we have not received any shipment instructions for additional doses.”
The confusion appears to have started Wednesday during a briefing led by Gen. Gustave Perna, chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed, when it was announced that some 2 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine would be allocated next week. That is 900,000 fewer doses than this week.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Pfizer was contending with some production challenges.
“As you know, they ended up coming short by half of what they thought they’d be able to produce, and what they’d announced they’d be able to produce” in 2020, he said.
This was after DeSantis said Tuesday that Florida is getting 450,000 fewer doses in the next few weeks because Pfizer is having production problems.
“We were supposed to get for next week 205,000 Pfizer (doses) and then next week 247,000,” he said at a press conference. “Those next two shipments of Pfizer (vaccine) are on hold right now. We don’t know whether we will get any or not. And we’re just going to have to wait.”
Later, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said his state is getting a little less than half of the 8.8 million coronavirus vaccine doses that were supposed to be delivered in the next two weeks.
“Per the direction of Operation War Speed’s Gen. Perna, that estimate was tightened significantly down to 4.3 million doses shipped nationally next week,” Pritzker said Wednesday. “The following week, originally projected for another 8.8 million, is also now scheduled to be 4.3 million.”
That same day, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services announced that its vaccine allotment was shrinking by 29 percent next week from 84,000 doses to 60,000.
“This is decided at the federal level and subject to change,” Lynn Sutfin said in an email to Crain’s Detroit Business.
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Pfizer’s manufacturing plant and vaccine distribution center is located on a campus just outside Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee was the most recent to say that his state’s vaccine allotment will be cut — without any explanation — by 40 percent next week “and all states are seeing similar cuts.”
“This is disruptive and frustrating,” Inslee tweeted. “We need accurate, predictable numbers to plan and ensure on-the-ground success.”
In addition to the confusion over dose distribution, some 39,000 Pfizer shots bound for Alabama and California were sent back to the manufacturer because they had been stored in conditions that were even colder than the minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit that Pfizer recommends, Perna said Wednesday.
“We were taking no chances,” he said.
Pfizer’s vaccine was the first to get emergency authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. And unlike other vaccine developers, Pfizer did not take any federal funds for research or development from Operation Warp Speed.