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Health officials defend slow pace of coronavirus vaccinations

Health officials defend slow pace of coronavirus vaccinations
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Trump administration officials on Wednesday expressed confidence in the distribution of coronavirus vaccines, even while acknowledging a substantial lag between the number of vaccines distributed and the number actually administered.

More than 14 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S., Gen. Gustave Perna, chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed, said during a call with reporters.

"We are really doing well, in my opinion, in distribution," Perna said. "Over 14 million doses of vaccine had been distributed to date, and every day we push more vaccine."

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Perna said by Thursday night, all 64 jurisdictions will be able to place orders for up to 20 million doses of a vaccine, which includes both the ones from Moderna and from Pfizer. 

Perna did not say how many vaccines have been administered, only that there is a "good cadence." He also said the second doses, which had been held in reserve, will start to be shipped soon.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tracker said only 2.1 million doses have been administered, but the number is likely an undercount and the tracker has not been updated since Monday. 

Perna said he experiences a 72- to 96-hour delay in reporting on vaccine numbers but added that the data will “tighten up" as reporting becomes more routine and more data becomes available.

Moncef Slaoui, Operation Warp Speed's chief science adviser, said he does not know the exact number of vaccines that have been administered but acknowledged it is less than what the administration has aimed for. 

"Somewhere there is a lag in how the numbers are computed, but surely, it's a number that is smaller than the 14 million doses that are out there already available for us," Slaoui said. "We agree that that number is lower than what we hoped for."

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As late as mid-December, Trump administration officials said they were confident that 20 million people would receive COVID-19 vaccinations by the end of the year. 

Perna said he expects the number of vaccinations to pick up rapidly in the coming weeks, specifically between January 8 and 15, as vaccines will be sent to 19 different pharmacy chains, with tens of thousands of locations across the country.

In a separate media call, a top CDC scientist also defended the pace of vaccinations.

"We need to remember that these are new vaccines on new platforms with slightly complex requirements for storage handling and administration," said Nancy Messonnier, director of the agency's Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. "And we're launching a vaccine campaign in the midst of a pandemic surge. After years of drained and strained health care providers and public health departments." 

"I'm excited that 2.5 million people have initiated [vaccination], and are on the way to getting protected. I really expect those numbers are going to increase fast next week," Messonnier said.