Governors were livid Friday to learn that reserves of COVID-19 vaccinations promised by the federal government don’t actually exist.
The vaccine reserves had already been depleted when Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced earlier this week that they would be released to states, according to both state and federal officials, The Washington Post reported Friday.
Azar said Tuesday that the Trump administration was planning to release a significant reserve of doses that it had been holding back for the booster shots. “We are releasing the entire supply we have for order by states, rather than holding second doses in physical reserve,” he promised.
But governors have since learned that there is no reserve. The vaccines supposedly held back had already been shipped out beginning in late December. The crushing news comes as death rates continue to climb just as the U.S. is encouraging states to expand vaccination eligibility to anyone older than 65 and others at high risk.
The latest massive glitch in distribution of the desperately needed vaccines is the most recent in repeated stumbles by the Trump administration to effectively battle COVID-19. More than 391,000 Americans have already been killed by the coronavirus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Friday that a variant of COVID-19, which is at least 50% more contagious than the current strain, will become the dominant form of the disease in the U.S. by March.
“I am demanding answers from the Trump Administration,” Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) angrily tweeted Friday. “I am shocked and appalled that they have set an expectation on which they could not deliver, with such grave consequences.”
Instead of increasing, the number of vaccinations distributed to New York decreased this week, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) — from 300,000 doses down to 250,000.
“The Trump administration said they would expedite the second dose. It turns out that was not true; they had already sent out everything they had …. In the meantime, there was a dramatic increase in eligibility,” Cuomo said.
“What they did was like opening the floodgates of eligibility … and that entire flood has to go through a syringe. That’s the situation the federal government created,” he added.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz (D) complained to KARE-11 TV in Minneapolis that he was among several governors deceived by federal officials about the vaccine stockpile. He blamed the Trump administration for the “botched” rollout.
“This one is so far beyond the pale to be almost unimaginable,” Walz said. “Who’s going to be prosecuted for this? What are the states to do when they’ve been lied to and made all their plans around this?”
Walz said the expanded federal guidance opened Minnesota’s vaccination pool to about 2.1 million people. But the state only had 60,000 doses, he said. “I’m not sleeping because of it.”
Alena Yarmosky, a spokesperson for Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D), said governors were “told explicitly” they would be getting additional doses.
“What we’re seeing is fully in line with the dysfunction that has characterized the Trump administration’s entire response to COVID-19. President-elect Biden cannot be sworn in fast enough,” she said.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services told ABC News that states may have been “confused” in their expectations and insisted that there had been no reduction in shipped doses.
The Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed, which is organizing vaccine distribution, stopped stockpiling second doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at the end of last year, the Post reported. Shipping of the last reserve doses of Moderna’s supply already began last weekend.
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