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Federal officials gave an update Monday morning on the progress of shipments of Pfizer’s and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine, saying that 145 shipments would be delivered by 2:00 PM local time around the United States.
Gen. Gustave Perna, the chief operating officer of the federal government’s Operation Warp Speed program, said personnel had worked all weekend to get the vaccine packed and shipped from Pfizer’s manufacturing site in Kalamazoo, Michigan, to states’ designated receiving sites in order that vaccinations may begin Monday.
“It went incredibly well,” Perna told reporters during a press briefing.
As of 1:00 PM on Monday, 55 shipments had been received. The remaining 95 were due to be delivered by 2:00 PM local time, Perna said.
Shipments will continue each day. It is planned that a total of 636 shipments will be delivered through Wednesday. “The shipments for tomorrow’s deliveries have already been packed and checked,” he said.
Another 581 shipments will go to states starting on Thursday and continuing through the weekend, Perna said.
By Sunday, the federal government expects to have delivered a total of 2.9 million doses of the vaccine to the states, Washington, DC, and US territories. Operation Warp Speed is holding an additional 2.9 million doses for the booster that’s due to be given 21 days later to the initial recipients, and it’s keeping 500,000 doses in reserve for contingencies.
Each state and territory has devised a plan of prioritization that is based on recommendations that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) issued on December 1.
More on the Way
ACIP urged that frontline healthcare workers and residents and staff of long-term care facilities be in the first phase.
CBS News reported on Monday that it had obtained Operation Warp Speed documents that show that the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) was asking nursing homes to delay vaccinations until December 21. HHS said that CVS and Walgreens — which have a contract with the CDC to provide delivery, administration, and follow-up for COVID-19 vaccines at long-term care facilities — had made that request.
HHS Secretary Alex Azar denied that the agency was seeking a delay. “There’s no prohibition on distributing and vaccinating sooner,” he said on Monday. “In fact, we encourage it sooner” if CVS and Walgreens “are ready to go faster,” he said.
“We expect to see vaccinations in nursing homes this week,” Azar added.
Perna said the logistics of distributing the vaccine in nursing homes are difficult. Distribution requires finding space to administer shots and obtaining consent from all residents or families. Four states have said they are vaccinating in long-term care facilities this week. On December 21, an additional 1100 facilities will start vaccinating residents and staff, Perna said.
He said he expects vaccine shipments to become a “steady drumbeat” going forward. Additional doses may become available if Moderna receives US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) emergency use authorization after the agency’s advisory committee weighs safety and efficacy data on December 17.
“Our goal would be for the Moderna product to be available this time next week across the United States,” he said.
In the first week, the government will ship slightly fewer than 6 million doses of the Moderna vaccine to 3285 locations, Perna said. Just as with Pfizer’s vaccine, Operation Warp Speed is holding a certain number of currently available doses in reserve so as to be able to provide second doses to the initial recipients 28 days after the first and to have doses available in case there is any disruption in supply or delivery.
“Our goal is to make sure that all vaccine is available for first and second doses,” said Perna. “This is about making sure we are prepared to mitigate situations.” He did not disclose how many doses of the Moderna vaccine are being held back.
Azar and Moncef Slaoui, chief science officer for Operation Warp Speed, both reiterated that they expected to have enough vaccine to immunize 20 million people with a first dose by the end of December and an additional 30 million individuals with a first dose in January.