Just over a million people in the U.S. have received their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine since Wednesday morning, far from the federal government’s goal of vaccinating 20 million Americans by the end of the year.
Now that two Covid-19 vaccines have been approved for emergency use, the biggest hurdle to ending a pandemic in the U.S. is reaching doses for about 331 million Americans nationwide. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 1,008,025 shots were fired as of Wednesday at 9 a.m.
That’s roughly 19 million doses shy of earlier projections for December, and public officials have a little over a week left – about 8 days – to try to reduce that gap. The U.S. should vaccinate more than 2.1 million people a day by December 31 to meet its goal. Two vaccines – from Pfizer and Moderna – have been approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration, and the U.S., according to the CDC, has shipped a total of 9,465,725 doses nationwide.
CDC data on vaccine distribution come from state, territorial, and local public health agencies, as well as from five federal agencies. Thus, there may be an additional backlog in reporting for data from these sites.
Investors and vaccine policymakers see it as a solution to get the U.S. economy back on track, as a pandemic devastates every state, floods hospitals and disrupts business. The United States had the worst epidemic in the world, with more than 18.2 million cases and at least 322,849 deaths, according to data collected from Johns Hopkins University.
Earlier on Wednesday, the director of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Francis Collins, who received his first vaccine against Covid on Tuesday along with Dr. Anthony Fauci, said the U.S. government if the goal is not met by the end of this month hopes that Americans “will realize that this is a huge logistical challenge.”
“Honestly, I think it’s pretty amazing that it went as fast as before, recognizing that it’s only been 10 days since the FDA first approved the emergency use of Pfizer, and then a week later for Modern,” Collins told CNN. “I think the distribution effort has passed [Operation] Warp Speed and then work through the states is pretty amazing. “
Later in the day, federal health officials said the distribution of vaccines was slower than U.S. officials had hoped.
“How fast the immunizations, the shots in the weapons, are faster than we thought they would be,” King Donald Cepard told reporters against the coronavirus vaccine, Dr. Moncef Slaoui, during a press briefing on Wednesday afternoon. “And as I told you earlier, we are here to help states accelerate appropriately,” he said, adding that the 20 million vaccination target “is unlikely to be achieved.”
Global health experts said the distribution of vaccines to about 331 million Americans within a few months could prove much more complex and chaotic than originally thought. In addition to producing enough doses, states and territories also need enough needles, syringes and vials to complete vaccinations. People must also be trained in how to store and administer vaccines. For example, the Pfizer vaccine requires a storage temperature of minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit.
Public health officials have previously insisted that the introduction of the vaccine as a whole has been smooth, except for a few accidents. The United States suffered its first hiccup last week when approximately 3,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine traveling to California and Alabama had to be quarantined and returned to the company after the bottles somehow cooled too much. It is unclear why the temperature dropped, but Pfizer said in a statement that it was able to intercept the shipments and “uninterruptedly launch the supply that will be delivered to those customers.”
States have also reported confusion over vaccine plans. In recent days, civil servants have said they have learned that their second shipment of Pfizer vaccine will be smaller than expected or delayed. Army General Gustave Pern, who oversees the logistics of Trump’s Operation Warp Speed vaccine program, apologized for the confusion last week, saying it was a “planning mistake”.
On Wednesday, Perna also said that some deliveries of doses went to the wrong destinations and others that they came out on the wrong day.
“We had a handful of packages we tried to deliver that weren’t destined for the right place, but we caught them before they were put off and we redirected them to the right place,” he said. “And we had a few … shipments that didn’t come out on the right day.”
Soumi Saha, a pharmacist and vice president of advocacy for Premier, a consulting firm that works with thousands of hospitals and nursing homes, told CNBC last month that vaccine distribution would be “brand new territory” for health systems. “This is a whole new logistical challenge to distribute and take this vaccine to the right place while maintaining product integrity,” she said.
Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist and professor at the University of Toronto, called the rapid expansion of vaccination into pharmacies, hospitals and primary care networks “extremely impressive.”
“One of the major obstacles to vaccine efforts in the United States seems to be hesitation, while obstacles elsewhere in the world will be access to the vaccine,” he told CNBC on Wednesday.