Written by Rebecca Spalding and Carl O’Donnell
(Reuters) – Millions of new coronavirus (Covid-19) vaccines remain unused in US hospitals and elsewhere a week after the massive vaccination campaign, putting the government’s target of 20 million vaccines this month into question.
As of Wednesday morning, only 1 million rounds of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine have been given, about a third of the first shipment sent last week. More than 9.5 million doses of vaccines, including Moderna, have now been sent to the states, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While hospitals have begun administering the Moderna vaccine, the CDC has not yet reported this data and there may be delays in reporting shots given to both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
The slow pace has barely increased since the first week when 614,000 shots were given despite nearly 2.9 million shots being charged.
Hospitals said their first COVID-19 vaccines began slowly last Monday, as they scrolled preparing previously frozen shots for use, finding employees to run vaccination clinics, and ensuring appropriate social distancing before and after vaccination. Some said they fired around 100 rounds on the first day.
They were dealing with an increase in COVID-19, with cases across the United States topping 18 million with 323,000 deaths. (Graphic: https://tmsnrt.rs/34pvUyi)
The Trump administration promised to vaccinate 20 million people by the end of the year with little funding to meet the goal.
That’s nine days to give nearly 19 million injections or more than two million people vaccinated every day including Christmas Day.
Nearly 5.9 million doses of Moderna Inc.’s vaccine should come out this week and an additional 2 million doses of Pfizer and its partner BioNTech.
Two more vaccines may be approved in February from Johnson & Johnson Inc and AstraZeneca Plc.
The government’s goal is 100 million Pfizer and Moderna rounds by March 1.
General Gustav Perna of Operation Warp Speed, who is leading the vaccine deployment effort, said Monday that the CDC data reflects a delay in reporting and that the number of vaccines will catch up over time.
The CDC said its data may also reflect a delay between vaccine doses and state reports. Most nursing home vaccines started en masse this week only, and the CDC data do not specify how many doses of the first shipment countries kept for that group.
The staff is gentle
Margaret Mary Health, a 25-bed rural hospital in Indiana, has built a car-to-car vaccination clinic at a local fire station and one at a local recreation center to inoculate healthcare workers in surrounding counties, according to CEO Tim Putnam.
Putnam, who conducted traffic monitoring at the clinic, said they used about 400 doses out of 1,100 doses received.
He said, “We are asking for volunteers from our staff, and volunteers from the local community college to intervene and build this process from the ground up.”
Some of the largest hospitals in the United States vaccinate more than 1,000 people per day, after running dry courses of vaccine delivery and release.
Vermont, Delaware and Idaho were among the states confirming that their states provided only thousands of doses – a fraction of those available to them – during the first week.
Jason Schwartz, assistant professor of health policy at the Yale School of Public Health, described the preliminary outcome as “not encouraging” and said, “The challenges of getting vaccines as quickly as we can manufacture them will increase.”
Claire Hannan, executive director of the Association of Commercial Immunization Directors, said the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine could accelerate diffusion because it requires a conventional refrigerator and does not have specialized procedures for defrosting and administering it. AstraZeneca two-dose vaccine may also be stored in the refrigerator.
Hanan said, “When the refrigerator is fixed and the single dose regime, it will not be easier.”
Hospitals start slow but fast
Dr Saul Weingart, chief medical officer at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, said the hospital had administered about 750 doses of about 3,000 available doses as of Friday. He said it started with 100 rounds per day and worked to about 450 rounds.
He said that experts at the hospital formulated that giving Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine would take 10 minutes, which is about two to three times the flu vaccine, due to the necessary procedures because the vaccine is stored in a deep freeze. Patients need social distancing before and after administration of the vaccine and be monitored for allergic reactions.
The United States delivers 170 million flu vaccines each year within a few months, but for the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States would have to give about three times that number of vaccines – two doses of Pfizer and Moderna – to reach most Americans by July. At its current pace, the US appears to have the capacity to manage less than a third of the shots shipped in a given week, confirming the gap.
A spokesperson for Houston Methodist Hospital in Houston, Texas, said it had given 8,300 employees the vaccine as of Monday with about 7,000 doses remaining from the first shipment.
University of Southern California’s Keck Medicine School of Medicine vaccinated more than 3,000 employees and said it will take six weeks for everyone, similar to the flu vaccination schedule.
Adrian Casalotti, head of government and public affairs for the National Association of District and City Health Officials, said states and health departments need federal funds to hire staff, data center workers, to track vaccinations, to call center staff to field questions.
The current US Congressional aid package against the Coronavirus has allocated more than $ 8 billion to distribute the vaccine but has been postponed.
“You can’t hire and train someone in December if you don’t know you can pay them in January,” Casalotti said.
(Prepared by Rebecca Spalding and Carl O’Donnell; additional report by Dina Paisley in Los Angeles; edited by Caroline Homer and Lisa Schumaker)