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Top official apologizes for vaccine 'miscommunication,' says US still on track for 20m doses this year

A top federal official on Saturday apologized and said a "miscommunication" was to blame for the confusion this week, after governors and state officials reported their doses of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine were being cut without explanation.

Army Gen. Gustave Perna, who is in charge of all logistics for the administration's Operation Warp Speed (OWS), said he gave "forecasted" numbers for planning purposes, but then the actual number of doses able to be released turned out to be much lower.

Perna called it a "planning error," and apologized for the impact it had on states.

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"I accept responsibility for the miscommunication," Perna said. "So to the governors and the governor's staffs; please accept my personal apology. If this was disruptive in your decision making and in your conversations with the people of your great state, I will work hard to correct this."

Officials can only allocate doses that have completed quality control and are released for distribution.

Perna did not answer questions about the specifics of the error, but made clear it was not the fault of Pfizer or the governors. 

"There is a delay between what is available and what is releasable, because we're talking about hundreds of thousands and millions of doses, that we want to make sure are right," Perna said. 

"To this date to the best of my knowledge, there have been zero problems with the Pfizer vaccines, going from manufactured to releasable, it is just about the process that you have to go through to get to releasable," Perna said.

This week, governors in multiple states reported their allocations of Pfizer's vaccine had been drastically cut, sparking confusion, especially after Pfizer said it had "millions" of doses in its warehouse that had not received shipping instructions.

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Pfizer's vaccine requires two doses administered 21 days apart. Federal officials are holding back the second doses in an effort to make sure everyone can get the first shot, plus an additional 500,000 doses in reserve.

According to a notice from HHS sent to governors and shared with The Hill, Pfizer should have on-hand more than 7 million doses for the U.S. vaccination effort. 

Those doses include the 2.9 million that will be sent as a second dose in three weeks, the 500,000 in reserve, and 4 million doses allocated for next week, divided in half, with 2 million held by Pfizer as a second dose.

"All of these doses are spoken for. If Pfizer has more releasable doses available, we will add them to allocations for distribution," HHS said.

Meanwhile, distribution of the Moderna vaccine has already begun, Perna said, after the Food and Drug Administration granted it emergency use authorization on Friday. The vaccine will be delivered to 64 jurisdictions, five federal agencies and at least 3,700 locations, such as hospitals and pharmacies.

Perna said despite the confusion over availability from Pfizer, the federal government is still on track to allocate about 20 million doses from both Pfizer and Moderna to every jurisdiction by the end of the year. Distribution of those doses will push into the first week of January, he said.

Updated: 1:30 p.m.