CORONAVIRUS

Lower vaccine projections could slow nursing home inoculations

Iowa projection cut 20 percent; White House downplays risks

On the first day the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine was rolled out in the nation, staff nurse Rachel Lewis draws a dos
On the first day the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine was rolled out in the nation, staff nurse Rachel Lewis draws a dose Monday for a nurse at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City. According to figures released Thursday, the state has been told to expect nearly 20 percent fewer doses of the Pfizer and a second vaccine by Moderna than projected just days ago. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
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Although White House officials Thursday downplayed the risks, Iowa is among the states saying their allocations of the game-changing COVID-19 vaccinations in the coming weeks will be less than projected — prompting worries about potential delays for inoculating thousands of health care workers and long-term care residents.

The first U.S. doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine were administered Monday, including at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. Already this week hundreds of thousands of people, mostly health care workers, have been vaccinated across the nation. The pace is expected to increase next week, assuming Moderna gets federal authorization for its vaccine as a panel recommended Thursday.

According to a coronavirus tracking project at Johns Hopkins University, about 2,400 people are dying every day in the United States because of the contagious disease.

Iowa public health officials said they initially were told to expect a total of 172,000 doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines within the first three weeks of availability this month. But in a statement Thursday, Iowa officials say that now has been lowered to 138,300 doses — a nearly 20 percent reduction.

While the Iowa Department of Public Health said it was told by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to expect fewer doses of each brand, the sharper cutbacks are listed for the Pfizer shipments.

The state said the numbers are for planning only, and could change yet again.

“Despite these revisions, IDPH is committed to initiating the national pharmacy program for long-term care facilities the week of December 28 as planned, though the original timeline for completion will be impacted,” a statement from the agency said.

The plan calls for partnering with the federally approved Community Pharmacy, CVS and Walgreens and administer doses at Iowa’s 430 nursing facilities.

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“The pharmacies are scheduling clinics across the state to deliver and administer the vaccine to the more than 25,500 nursing facility employees and over 19,000 residents,” said a statement from the Iowa Health Care Association.

The organization, too, said the starting schedule as projected would stick — with the first round of doses being administered as soon as Dec. 28, and a round of a required second dose starting Feb. 2.

Like in Iowa, governors and health leaders in at least 10 states have said the federal government has told them that next week’s shipment will be less than originally projected.

Little explanation was offered, leaving many state officials perplexed.

“This is disruptive and frustrating,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee wrote on Twitter Thursday after learning from the CDC that the state’s allocation would be cut by 40 percent. “We need accurate, predictable numbers to plan and ensure on-the-ground success.”

California, where an explosion in cases is pushing intensive care units to the breaking point, will receive 160,000 fewer vaccine doses than state officials had anticipated next week — a roughly 40 percent cut.

Missouri’s health director, Dr. Randall Williams, said his state will get 25 to 30 percent less of the vaccine next week than anticipated.

Michigan’s shipment will drop by about a quarter. Illinois, Montana, Kansas, Nebraska, New Hampshire and Indiana also have been told to expect smaller shipments.

In Washington, D.C., two senior Trump administration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal planning said states will receive their full allocations, but misunderstandings about vaccine supply and changes to the delivery schedule may be creating confusion.

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One official said the numbers of available doses that initially were provided to states were projections based on information from the manufacturers, not fixed allocations. Some state officials may have misunderstood that, the official said.

The two officials also said that changes the federal government made to the delivery schedule, at the request of some governors, may be contributing to a mistaken impression that fewer doses are coming. The key change involves spacing out delivery of states’ weekly allocations over several days to make distribution more manageable — though that explanation does not jibe with the latest numbers released in Iowa, showing totals for the rest of this month.

Pfizer made it clear Thursday that as far as production goes, nothing has changed.

“Pfizer has not had any production issues with our COVID-19 vaccine, and no shipments containing the vaccine are on hold or delayed,” spokesman Eamonn Nolan said in an email.

The company said in a written statement that this week it “successfully shipped all 2.9 million doses that we were asked to ship by the U.S. Government to the locations specified by them. We have millions more doses sitting in our warehouse but, as of now, we have not received any shipment instructions for additional doses.”

The senior administration officials said Pfizer’s statement about doses awaiting shipping instructions, while technically accurate, omits a key explanation: It was planned that way.

The federal Operation Warp Speed planned to distribute 2.9 million of the initial doses right away. Another 2.9 million were to be held at Pfizer’s warehouse to guarantee that individuals vaccinated the first week would be able to get their second shot later.

The Associated Press contributed.

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