The United States will end the year by vaccinating far fewer people against the coronavirus than expected, senior Trump administration officials have admitted, with states having used only about a fifth of the doses they were given in the past. over the past three weeks.
Officials at U.S. public health agencies said a combination of the holiday season, bad weather and complex vaccination procedures conspired to ensure that fewer healthcare workers and nursing home residents were vaccinated this year. provided that.
Authorities aimed to distribute enough doses to immunize 20 million people by the end of the year, but recently admitted they are unlikely to meet that target until early January after underestimating the time it would take to perform quality checks on manufactured doses.
Figures released by the federal government, however, show that a bigger obstacle is getting vaccines to people once they’ve been made and shipped. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Wednesday that just under 2.6 million people in the country had been vaccinated, even though 12.4 million doses had been distributed.
Moncef Slaoui, the head of Operation Warp Speed, which President Donald Trump has put in place to speed up the vaccination process, told reporters: “We agree that the number [of vaccinated people] is lower than we expected. ”
Some states have said that vaccinations are underreported and that the actual number of vaccines given will be greater than that reported to and by the CDC. However, Mr Slaoui said data issues would not capture the extent of the gap, adding: “We know it should be better, and we are working hard to improve it.”
Mr Slaoui did not explain why he thought the targets were missed.
Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, implicated a series of factors. She said part of the problem was that the pharmacies that were largely responsible for vaccinating people in care homes had waited to make appointments until they could be sure they had enough doses for booster shots.
She said hospitals and care homes were also unprepared to start their immunization programs amid the Christmas vacation, with absent staff and already insufficient resources.
“We have to remember that these are new vaccines on new platforms with slightly complex requirements for storage, handling and administration,” she said.
“And we are launching a vaccination campaign in the midst of a pandemic wave, after years of exhausted and strained health care and public health service providers.”
The pace of the vaccination rollout will be critical in curbing the spread of the virus in the United States, where more than 330,000 people have died. The United States reported 3,903 deaths on Wednesday, according to the Covid Tracking Project, while more than 125,000 people are currently hospitalized with the disease – both record totals.
Henry Walke, the head of Covid-19 incidents at the CDC, said on Wednesday that he was thinking about the new variant of the disease that caused a huge peak in cases and hospitalizations in the UK, was now spreading to the US. The country reported their first case of the new strain, which scientists say is much easier to pass this week to a Colorado man with no travel history.
“The lack of a reported travel history suggests that this variant is transmitted person-to-person in the United States,” said Dr Walke, adding that this could add additional strain on “heavily burdened health systems” from the country.
President-elect Joe Biden this week sounded the alarm over the slow pace of vaccination, saying that at the current rate it would take years to vaccinate everyone in the United States. Mr Biden’s allies have spoken in recent weeks about overhauling the federal government’s distribution plans to allow his administration to take more direct control of the process, rather than leaving so much care to the states.
Officials and medical experts say they expect the pace of vaccination to accelerate rapidly in the new year, once people return to work and clinics and pharmacies become more confident in their health. administration.
Dr Messonnier said: “I really think these numbers are going to increase rapidly next week.”