Governors bitterly accused the Trump administration on Friday of misleading states about how much COVID-19 vaccine they can expect to receive as they step up vaccinations for the elderly and others. But the government attributed the anger to confusion and false expectations on the part of states.
Meanwhile, the race between the vaccine and the virus may be about to intensify: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned that the new, more infectious variant first seen in Britain is likely to become the dominant version in the United States by March.
The CDC said the variant is about 50% more contagious than the virus that causes the majority of cases in this country.
“We want to sound the alarm,” said Dr. Jay Butler, CDC deputy director for infectious diseases.
The clash over the pace of government COVID-19 vaccine allocations threatens to escalate tensions between the Trump administration and some states over who is responsible for the relatively slow start of the vaccination campaign against the more deadly scourge. of 390,000 Americans.
Oregon had announced earlier this week that it would expand vaccine eligibility to approximately 760,000 residents aged 65 and over, as well as teachers and child care providers, due to what ‘he said they were promises that the state’s vaccine allocation would be increased.
But Democratic housekeeper Kate Brown said those plans are now in disarray due to “nationwide deception” by the administration.
Via Twitter, Brown said he had been informed by General Gustav F. Perna, who heads Operation Warp Speed, that states will not receive an increase in shipments of vaccines from the national stockpile next week “because there is no no federal reserve of doses ”.
Following what she called “a cruel joke,” Brown said the state will now postpone vaccination of the elderly to February 8 instead of January 23 and initially limit it to people 80 and over.
Oregon health officials said Friday night that a case of the variant was diagnosed in the Portland area in a patient who had no travel history.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, a Democrat, said he was among several governors misled by federal officials about the availability of a strategic dose supply.
“This one is so beyond pale to be almost unimaginable,” he said. “Who is going to be prosecuted for this?” What should states do when they’ve been lied to and made all their plans about it? “
Alena Yarmosky, spokeswoman for Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, said governors were “explicitly told” on Tuesday that they would receive additional doses. Northam, a Democrat and doctor, had acted quickly on the announcement that the state would expand vaccine eligibility.
Now, the Northam administration is trying to determine if these additional supplies do not exist, Yarmosky said.
“What we are seeing is fully consistent with the dysfunction that has characterized the entire Trump administration response to COVID-19. President-elect (Joe) Biden cannot be sworn in quickly enough, ”she said.
Michael Pratt, a spokesperson for the US Department of Health and Human Services, said states may have been confused in their expectations but there has been no reduction in the doses shipped to them. .
Biden alluded to the tensions on Friday and pledged to better communicate with states so they know how many vaccines will arrive and when.
“Right now we hear that they can’t plan because they don’t know it,” he said. “It stops when we are in power.”
As of Friday, the government had distributed more than 31 million doses to states, U.S. territories and major cities. About 12.3 million doses had been administered, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s online tracking.
There is no evidence that the new variant causes more serious illness or spreads differently, and wearing the mask and other precautions still work, the CDC said. Scientists have also expressed confidence that vaccines are still effective against it.
According to the CDC, the variant has been detected in 12 states and diagnosed in just 76 reported cases. But it’s probably more prevalent in the United States than the numbers suggest, scientists at the CDC have said.
The two COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in the United States – manufactured by Pfizer and Moderna – are designed to be given in two doses, three or four weeks apart.
For weeks, Operation Warp Speed had kept large amounts of vaccine in reserve to ensure those who received their first dose received their second on time. This practice was a protection against possible manufacturing delays. When HHS Secretary Alex Azar announced on Tuesday that he was ending the practice, it was interpreted as a doubling of the planned supply.
But there was another huge change: He also urged states to open up vaccination to all people over 65 and younger people with certain health conditions, although most were not yet finished. to distribute vaccines to all health workers first.
The result was a scramble from state and local health officials to figure out exactly how much vaccine they would receive in the coming weeks and how to step up vaccines for an audience with higher expectations.
Pratt said the doses that were kept in reserve to provide the second injections were released last week. However, it is not clear whether they all shipped before the Trump administration announced earlier this week that states should open up vaccination to more people. He said states were getting the necessary second doses they needed and the number of first doses was stable.
Pfizer said it was working around the clock to produce millions of doses per day, adding, “We do not foresee any problems in keeping the commitments we made” to deliver Operation Warp Speed. Moderna did not immediately respond to questions about its supplies.
In Mary’s Woods, a retirement community in the suburbs of Portland, Oregon, residents have expressed concerns about having to wait longer for their vaccinations. Many have COVID-19, and others are terrified that it could spread to them soon.
“I’m pretty disappointed,” said Joan Burns, 75. “We are being held captive and it is difficult to talk to anyone. I am as anxious as ever, and I know it is escalating. We’re just playing the odds right now, really.
Elsewhere in the country, in hard-hit California, where 3,675 people died from COVID-19 last week, officials are rushing to help coroners in overwhelmed counties. The Office of Emergency Services said it had secured 98 refrigerated trailers to serve as makeshift morgues.