Governors say no additional vaccine doses coming, despite Trump admin promise
Governors are accusing the Trump administration of lying about the availability of additional coronavirus vaccines, following an announcement from top officials that doses will no longer be held in reserve.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said this week the administration would no longer be holding back the second of two doses, and encouraged states to open vaccination eligibility to more people.
But governors say there is no reserve and their limited supply of vaccines will not increase. Instead of being able to dramatically expand access to millions more people, states will have to continue to manage at their current levels.
The situation adds to growing frustration with the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed. State officials have complained about a lack of clear communication from federal officials, and that the administration has continually changed the allocation numbers.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) on Friday said she learned there were no reserves after speaking to Gen. Gustave Perna of Operation Warp Speed on Thursday.
“This is a deception on a national scale. Oregon’s seniors, teachers, all of us, were depending on the promise of Oregon’s share of the federal reserve of vaccines being released to us,” Brown tweeted.
The Trump administration had been holding back half of the available doses to ensure there is enough supply for everyone who is getting a first dose to later get a second as well.
Earlier this week, Azar and other officials said they had enough confidence in the supply chain so they could stop holding doses in reserve.
They also changed federal recommendations to prioritize everyone 65 and older, as well as people 16 and older with one high-risk medical condition — an extra 150 million Americans.
During a call with reporters announcing the change, Azar did not say the original policy had already been phased out, or that there was no longer a reserve.
“We are releasing the entire supply we have for order by states, rather than holding second doses in physical reserve,” he said.
A spokesperson for Operation Warp Speed did not return a request for comment.
The Washington Post first reported the issue earlier Friday, and noted that some state health officials were still in the dark.
According to the paper, Operation Warp Speed stopped stockpiling second doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at the end of last year. The last shots held in reserve of Moderna’s vaccine supply were shipped to states last weekend.
Brown’s statement comes just days after the state expanded eligibility to allow everyone 65 and older, as well as child care providers and early learning and K-12 educators and staff, to get a shot.
Oregon Health Authority Director Pat Allen sent a letter to Azar demanding an explanation.
“While releasing second doses to be used as first doses entails considerable risk, we were encouraged by your assurances that production is accelerating at a rate sufficient to meet future demand,” Allen wrote.
But he said Perna informed state officials on a call Thursday night there were no reserves, and the allocation of vaccines would not be increasing.
“If true, this is extremely disturbing, and puts our plans to expand eligibility at grave risk,” Allen wrote.
“Those plans were made on the basis of reliance on your statement about ‘releasing the entire supply’ you have in reserve. If this information is accurate, we will be unable to begin vaccinating our vulnerable seniors on January 23rd as planned,” he added.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) on Friday said the state’s allocation actually decreased this week, 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, so there was no increase in supply. 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.
The frustration goes beyond blue states.
In Oklahoma, Deputy Commissioner of Health Keith Reed said the state planned to ramp up vaccination efforts because they were anticipating getting a much bigger delivery from the federal government.
He told reporters Friday he was blindsided by the change.
“We were given a clear impression that for every prime dose we were receiving each week, there was an equivalent amount of vaccine held back for a second dose,” Reed said, but at some point that was no longer happening, and the state was not informed.