The Biden administration is aiming to vaccinate 100 million people in 100 days, but the new director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned that it won’t necessarily mean calling up the local pharmacy to schedule your COVID-19 shot in the coming weeks, as was once predicted by former Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.
“You know as we talk with the manufacturers and we think about the supply and eligibility, we are going to as part of our plan put the vaccine in pharmacies,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky told TODAY on Thursday. “Will it be in every pharmacy in the country by that timeline I don’t think so. As I said early on I’m going to tell you the truth here – I don’t think late February we’re going to have vaccine in every pharmacy in this country.”
Walensky said that her team has been meeting daily for some time to discuss plans that include mobile units to get vaccines to rural areas of the country, setting up community distribution centers and ensuring that there are enough available vaccinators to meet the demand.
She had previously vowed that the Biden administration would work through manufacturing bottleneck issues including invoking the Defense Production Act to ramp up supply, but a number of states are already experiencing shortages forcing thousands of canceled appointments.
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Other mishaps due to storage temperature issues or overestimating dosage needs have resulted in wasted supply. As of Wednesday morning, the CDC reported that nearly 36 million doses had been distributed, but only 16.5 million had been administered. Previously, health officials have said the gap could be due to a lack in state reporting mixed with other shortcomings on a local level.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo who has received flak for his state’s lagging rollout and his initial refusal to expand the distribution eligibility is now warning that the state will exhaust its supply by the end of the week.
“What’s clear now is we’ll be going from week to week, and you will see a constant pattern of basically running out, waiting for the next week’s allocation, and starting up again,” he said.
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New York City Mayor De Blasio said as many as 23,000 people had their appointments canceled due to supply shortages, and the New York Police Department suspended first-shot vaccinations for its officers.
Elsewhere, governors blamed the Trump administration for promising to release federal supply that had already been used after it advised states to expand distribution to include people ages 65 and older.
In Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown said distribution efforts would have to be scaled back as the state waits for additional supply. Her plan now includes a 12-week rollout to reach seniors over 65 to begin in February, and a dialed down effort for other groups.
Walensky said the potential to have a third vaccine manufacturer come online would also help address supply issues, as is the hope with Johnson & Johnson.
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“We said 100 million doses in the first 100 days and we’re going to stick to that plan,” Walensky said. “But I also want to be very cognizant of the fact that after 100 days there are still a lot of Americans who need vaccine. So we have our pedal to the metal to make sure we can get as much vaccine out there. As has been noted before we are hoping to have more data from another manufacturer from the J&J vaccine. The more vaccines we have out there that have FDA authorization the better shape we’ll be.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.