By Rebecca Spalding and Carl O’Donnell
December 23 (Reuters) – Millions of COVID-19 vaccines remain unused in US hospitals and elsewhere a week after the mass vaccination campaign, calling into question the government’s goal of 20 million vaccinations this month.
As of Wednesday morning, only 1 million injections of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine had been administered, about a third of the first shipment sent last week. More than 9.5 million doses of vaccines, including Moderna, have already been sent to states, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Although hospitals have started distributing Moderna’s vaccine, the CDC has not yet released these data and there may be a delay in reporting vaccines administered by the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
The slow pace has barely increased since the first week, when 614,000 shots were fired, although almost 2.9 million were sent.
Hospitals said the first COVID-19 vaccinations started slowly last Monday as they sailed preparing previously frozen vaccines for use, finding staff to run vaccination clinics and ensuring adequate social distance before and after vaccination. Some said they only took about 100 doses on the first day.
They were battling an outbreak of COVID-19, as cases in the United States exceeded 18 million with 323,000 deaths. (Graphic: https://tmsnrt.rs/34pvUyi)
The Trump administration has promised to vaccinate 20 million by the end of the year, providing few resources to achieve the goal.
It takes nine days to give almost 19 million injections or more than 2 million people vaccinated each day, including Christmas Day.
Nearly 5.9 million doses of Moderna Inc’s vaccine are due out this week and another 2 million doses from Pfizer and partner BioNTech.
Two more vaccines may be approved in February by Johnson & Johnson Inc and AstraZeneca Plc.
The government’s target is 100 million gunshots by Pfizer and Moderna by March 1.
Gen. Gustave Perna of Operation Warp Speed, who is leading the effort to distribute the vaccine, said on Monday that CDC data reflects a delay in reporting and that the number of vaccinations will increase over time.
The CDC said that its data may also reflect a gap between vaccine dosage and state reports. Most vaccinations in nursing homes only started en masse this week, and CDC data does not specify how many doses of the first batch were being maintained by the states for that group.
FINE EXTENDED STAFF
Margaret Mary Health, a rural 25-bed hospital in Indiana, built a drive-thru vaccination clinic at a local fire department and another at a local recreation center to vaccinate health workers in neighboring counties, according to the CEO Tim Putnam.
Putnam, who did traffic control at the clinic’s drive-thru, said they used about 400 of the 1,100 doses received.
“We are asking for volunteers from our team, volunteers from the local community college to intervene and build this process from scratch,” he said.
Some of the largest hospitals in the U.S. inoculated more than 1,000 people a day, after testing the application and implementing the vaccine.
Vermont, Delaware and Idaho are among the states that confirmed that their states gave only thousands of doses – a fraction of those available to them – during the first week.
Jason Schwartz, assistant professor of health policy at the Yale School of Public Health, described the initial count as “disheartening” and said “the challenges of getting vaccines as quickly as we are able to manufacture them will only increase”.
Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine can accelerate implantation because it requires a conventional refrigerator and has no specialized procedures to defrost and administer, said Claire Hannan, executive director of the Association for Immunization Managers commercial group. AstraZeneca’s two-dose vaccine can also be stored in the refrigerator.
“When it’s stable in the fridge and on a dose, it can’t be easier than that,” said Hannan.
HOSPITALS START SLOWLY, BUT ACCELERATE
Dr. Saul Weingart, the medical director at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, said the hospital had given about 750 doses out of the nearly 3,000 available by Friday. It started with 100 shots a day and came to about 450, he said.
He said the hospital experts modeled that administering Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine would take 10 minutes, about two to three times longer than a flu vaccine, due to the procedures required because the vaccine is stored in a deep freezer. Patients need to distance themselves socially before and after receiving the vaccine and be monitored for allergic reactions.
The United States gives 170 million flu vaccines each year within a few months, but for the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States must give about three times that number of vaccines – Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are two doses – to reach most Americans by July. At the current rate, the US appears to be able to handle less than a third of the shots that are sent in a given week, emphasizing the gap.
A spokesman for the Houston Methodist, a hospital in Houston, Texas, said he gave the vaccine to 8,300 employees as of Monday, with about 7,000 doses remaining from the first shipment.
The University of Southern California’s Keck Medicine School of Medicine vaccinated more than 3,000 employees and said it would take six weeks for everyone, similar to their flu vaccination schedule.
States and health departments need federal money to hire employees, from data center employees to track vaccinations to call center employees and field issues, said Adriane Casalotti, head of government and public relations at the National Association of Employees of Municipal and Municipal Health.
The current US Congressional coronavirus aid package reserves more than $ 8 billion for the distribution of the vaccine, but it is delayed.
“You can’t hire someone in December and train them if you don’t know you can afford them in January,” said Casalotti.
(Reporting by Rebecca Spalding and Carl O’Donnell; additional reporting by Deena Beasley in Los Angeles; Editing by Caroline Humer and Lisa Shumaker)