UPS package handlers Jesirae Elzey and Demeatres Ralston unload boxes of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine when it arrives at UPS Worldport in Louisville, Kentucky on December 20, 2020.
Michael Clevenger | Pool | Reuters
Coronavirus vaccine distribution has been slower than US officials hoped, as the number of vaccinations is well below the US government's target of 20 million by the end of the year, federal health officials said Wednesday.
Just over 1 million people in the United States received their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine on Wednesday morning, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That's about 19 million doses, falling short of previous December forecasts, and officials have a little over a week – about 8 days – to try to fill that void.
"Exactly how fast the start of vaccinations and gun shots is slower than we expected," said Dr. Moncef Slaoui, tsar of President Donald Trump's coronavirus vaccine, told reporters during a press conference Wednesday afternoon. "And as I told you, we are here to help states accelerate appropriately," he said, adding that the target of 20 million vaccinations "is unlikely to be met."
US officials said they are still resolving some issues in the distribution system after some can deliveries went to the wrong destinations and others on the wrong day.
Army General Gustave Perna, who oversees logistics for Operation Warp Speed, said the US government has so far "done a good job" delivering millions of Covid vaccine doses from Pfizer and Moderna to states, territories and major cities across the country to distribute. But he added that US officials are still "learning" with the sales process getting "better" and "stronger" day by day.
"We had a handful of packages that we were trying to deliver that weren't destined for the right location, but we captured them before they were dropped off and we redirected them to the right location," Perna said at the press conference. "And we had a couple … shows that didn't go out on the right day."
This isn't the first hiccup since the distribution began. Perna said last week that several thousand doses of Pfizer's vaccine traveling to California and Alabama will need to be quarantined and returned to the company after the vials somehow got too cold. It's unclear why the temperature dropped, but Pfizer said in a statement that it was able to intercept the shipments and "seamlessly trigger subsequent delivery to these customers."
Global health experts had said distributing the vaccines to around 331 million Americans within a few months could prove to be much more complicated and chaotic than originally thought. In addition to making adequate doses, states and territories also need enough needles, syringes, and bottles to complete vaccinations. People also need training in the storage and administration of the vaccines. For example, Pfizer's vaccine requires a storage temperature of minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit.
Despite the missteps, CDC Director Robert Redfield on Wednesday praised the US milestone of 1 million vaccinations and called it an "achievement" as vaccination protection will help frontline health workers continue to treat sick patients.
"As we celebrate this historic milestone, we also recognize the challenging path that lies ahead," he said in a statement. "There is currently a limited supply of COVID-19 vaccines in the US, but the supply will increase in the coming weeks and months. The goal is to make it easy for everyone to be vaccinated against COVID-19 once enough is available are available. "
Perna said on Wednesday that it expected vaccine distribution to improve. More than 7,800 deliveries should be completed by the end of Thursday. The US plans to ship 2.67 million doses of Pfizer's vaccine and 2 million doses of Moderna's vaccine to states next week, Perna said. The government distributed 2 million doses of Pfizer's vaccine and 5.9 million doses of Moderna's vaccine this week. A total of 15.5 million vaccines have been allocated, he said.