The Surgeon General is urging states to ramp up vaccinations by moving quickly through priority lists as the White House COVID-19 task force debates telling governors to abandon their rollout plans and hand out shots to anyone in a bid to vaccinate as many as possible.
The US has now vaccinated just 5 million Americans despite having distributed 17 million doses across the country in the last three weeks. Only one third of initial vaccine supplies have been used up nationwide and 1.5 percent of the population has been vaccinated.
The sluggish pace is frustrating both health officials and desperate Americans as states scramble to hand out vaccinations amid widespread rollout failures that have been blamed on governors setting complex priorities, chaos in distribution given the freezing temperatures of the two-dose Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, and the lack of staff to administer jabs in overwhelmed healthcare systems.
Surgeon General Jerome Adams has partly blamed states for the slower than expected rollout, telling ABC’s Good Morning America on Wednesday that governors – who are in charge of prioritizing who gets the shots first – should ‘quickly move from priority 1A to 1B to 1C… move that supply so it can match up with demand’.
West Virginia, who is among the states to have vaccinated the most of its population so far, has already completely abandoned the federal program and worked directly with local pharmacies to vaccinate all of its nursing home residents.
Louisiana is now encouraging hospitals to give out extra doses to those aged over 70 and Washington DC is urging providers to hand out vaccines that are nearing expiration to anyone who wants it.
Thousands of senior citizens, many who are snowbirds, have been camping out overnight at various sites across Florida in order to get vaccinated.
FLORIDA: Thousands of senior citizens, many who are snowbirds, have been camping out overnight or lining up at various sites across Florida in order to get vaccinated. A security guard questions people in line waiting to receive the vaccine outside of Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami on Wednesday
In comparison, New York has threatened to fine hospitals up to $100,000 for not using up their allocated doses.
Currently, South Dakota is the leading state in terms of vaccinations per population and the number of doses actually administered. The state has so far vaccinated 3.2 percent of residents and has used up 64 percent of its 44,000 doses.
West Virginia has vaccinated 3 percent of its population and has used 45 percent of its 126,000 doses.
Surgeon General Jerome Adams has partly blamed states for the slower than expected rollout and called on governors – who are in charge of prioritizing who gets the shots first – to move on to the next priority groups to keep up with demand. He is pictured in a GMA interview on Wednesday
On the other end of the scale, Kansas and Georgia continue to be the worst performing having only used up less than 20 percent of their allocated doses, according to a state-by-state breakdown.
Kansas, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia have vaccinated less than 0.9 percent of their populations so far.
Based on guidelines issued by the federal government, most states are currently prioritizing frontline healthworkers and nursing home residents in the first phase, before moving on to the elderly and other essential workers.
The Surgeon General is now urging states to concentrate on getting the vaccinations out as quickly as possible while trying to stick to the guidelines, saying: ‘We’re going to make sure we’re putting vaccines and supplies where the demand actually is’.
Sources involved in the vaccine effort told the Daily Beast that White House COVID-19 task force members are debating whether to tell states to abandon their rollout plans to speed up the process and make sure none of the doses are wasted.
Senior officials now believe states should begin handing out some of their excess COVID-19 vaccine doses to whoever wants it, ignoring the supposed order of priority.
‘We need to make sure that the critically ill and most vulnerable people are getting this vaccine first,’ one senior administration official said. ‘But after that if there are doses that are just sitting in fridges expiring, we got to get them out there.’
Another added: ‘If we have a big surge in cases and deaths after the December holidays and we don’t have the vaccine distribution plan back on course we’re in big trouble.’
There has so far been no formal decision to draft recommendations but the officials said they are not against states pursuing this course of action.
Israel has already leapt ahead in the global vaccine race by squeezing every last dose out of its vaccine supplies and using its efficient health system to launch a 24/7 immunization drive with military help.
The country has already vaccinated some 15 percent of its population.
Amid mounting frustration over the slow vaccine rollout in the US, it has emerged that West Virginia managed to give its all of its 28,000 nursing home residents and staff their first dose of the vaccine by the end of December.
The state opted out of the federal nursing home program, which would ensure doses delivered directly to those care facilities via CVS and Walgreens. Instead, the state and West Virginia Board of Pharmacy partnered with local independent pharmacies to vaccinate nursing home residents.
Elsewhere, governors and other politicians are talking tough and in some cases proposing to bend the rules to get people vaccinated more quickly.
New York Gov Andrew Cuomo has threatened to fine hospitals that don’t use their vaccine allotments fast enough. He had previously threatened health care providers with a $1 million fine if they are caught fraudulently obtaining and giving out the vaccine.
Cuomo on Wednesday said his state had only received 950,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine from the federal government but needed more than 2.1 million shots to inoculate those in nursing homes and hospital staff.
New York has so far only used up about 300,000 doses of its 934,000 allocation. Just 1.5 percent of New Yorkers have been vaccinated to date.
Gov Henry McMaster of South Carolina said hospitals and health workers have until January 15 to get a shot or they will have to ‘move to the back of the line’. The state has given out less than half its initial allotment of the Pfizer vaccine to about 61,000 people.
In North Carolina, Gov Roy Cooper has called in the National Guard to help speed things up. North Carolina has used just 24 percent of its 498,000 allocation.
In California, where just over 1 percent of the population has been vaccinated, Gov Gavin Newsom said he wants to give providers the flexibility to dispense shots to people not on the priority list if doses are in danger of going to waste.
FLORIDA: Simon Simkovic, 90, and his wife Phyllis, 85, leave Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday
Despite the sluggish start, Adams said the US was ramping up its rollout and is now approaching 500,000 vaccinations per day.
‘It is, by no means, as good as we would want it to be. We always knew this was going to be difficult,’ Adams said of the rollout.
‘I want the American people to keep this in perspective: (It’s) the most difficult vaccine rollout in history, it’s ramping up and you’ll see things rapidly increase over the next couple of weeks.’
Dr Anthony Fauci was more optimistic about the sluggish start, saying the US could soon be giving at least a million vaccinations a day.
‘Any time you start a big program, there´s always glitches. I think the glitches have been worked out,’ Fauci told The Associated Press.
He noted that vaccinations have already begun speeding up, reaching roughly half a million injections a day, in the wake of the holidays.
‘Once you get rolling and get some momentum, I think we can achieve 1 million a day or even more,’ he said.
He called President-elect Joe Biden’s goal of 100 million vaccinations in his first 100 days ‘a very realistic, important, achievable goal.’
The race to vaccinate Americans quickly comes as a super-contagious mutant strain of COVID-19 that has forced the UK into its third lockdown has already been detected in the US. Dozens of people, who are spread across New York, California, Colorado, Georgia and Florida, have been confirmed to have the variant of the virus. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has revealed that one in 50 in England – around a million people all up – are now infected with coronavirus.
In addition, scientists are warily watching a different variant found in South Africa but not yet reported in the US.