KEY POINTS

  • National health officials announced Tuesday they would send out vaccine doses instead of holding them for second shots
  • The announcement was welcomed--until it became apparent that they had not in fact been holding any doses in reserve
  • The ability of states to expand COVID-19 vaccine offerings to senior is now at risk

State-level public officials are sounding the alarm after the COVID-19 vaccine stockpile they had been relying on to get Operation Warp Speed back-on-track turned out to be nonexistent. Alex Azar, secretary of Health and Human Services, said Tuesday that instead of holding second doses back they would be sent out immediately. 

Azar said it was a change to reflect new confidence that COVID-19 vaccine production would be reliable. When states inquired as to when they would get the vaccines, however, they were informed the policy had been in place for weeks and no extra doses would be sent, according to the Washington Post.

“Because we now have a consistent pace of production, we can now ship all of the doses that had been held in physical reserve,” Azar said Tuesday.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told news channels that final details were being ironed out, after an expert committee convened by the regulator voted to grant the two-dose regimen emergency approval for people aged 16 and over Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar Photo: AFP / Brendan Smialowski

When health officials realized that “all of the doses in physical reserve” in fact referred to zero doses, they began furiously contacting national offices to ask how they were supposed to stay on track.

“If true, this is extremely disturbing, and puts our plans to expand eligibility at grave risk,” said Oregon health director Patrick M. Allen in a letter shared with The Washington Post. “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 Jan. 23, as planned.”

National officials blamed the states, saying that the idea of a large stockpile was a “false rumor” when on Tuesday Azar himself had announced they would begin “releasing the entire supply we have for order by states, rather than holding second doses in physical reserve.”

Azar also said that states had only ordered 75% of the doses available to them.

Further exacerbating the confusion was a new program that would give more doses to states administering them the fastest. Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont said his state would receive an extra 50,000 shots, but national officials clarified the program would not start for two weeks.

West Virginia, which is the state administering vaccines the fastest, is for some reason not slated to receive any extra doses. 

The chaotic and faltering efforts of Operation Warp Speed might end when Joe Biden takes office. The Biden administration will shelve the misnomer, NPR reports, and end the rewards program that “punishes states” that need the most help. 

coronavirus vaccines Amid a rollout of coronavirus vaccines, technology and health firms are working on ways that people get digital certificates to be displayed on smartphones to show proof of inoculation. Photo: AFP / Kenzo Tribouillard In the United States, the worst-hit nation in the world, the rollout of vaccines has been plagued by logistical problems and overstretched hospitals and clinics In the United States, the worst-hit nation in the world, the rollout of vaccines has been plagued by logistical problems and overstretched hospitals and clinics Photo: AFP / JOEL SAGET