“I can’t tell you how much vaccine we have,” new CDC head says

Enlarge / A registered nurse practitioner holds up a sign and a flag asking for another patient to dose with the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine as well as a more vaccine doses at a vaccination site in Seattle, Washington on January 24, 2021.

With the country’s vaccine rollout in utter disorder, health officials in the Biden administration are cautiously trying to both manage expectations and express optimism.

In a series of interviews over the weekend, officials warned that states could face vaccine shortages in the short term, with some states’ supplies already running low—or completely running out. On the other hand, the officials remained convinced that they would be able to achieve the administration’s goal of getting 100 million doses in arms in their first 100 days in office—a goal that has been criticized as being both too ambitious and not ambitious enough.

With 95 days to go until their goal’s deadline, the officials have made clear just how much work they face in getting vaccinations on track.

“One of the biggest problems right now is I can’t tell you how much vaccine we have,” Rochelle Walensky, the newly appointed director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in an interview on “Fox News Sunday. “And if I can’t tell it to you, then I can’t tell it to the governors, and I can’t tell it to the state health officials.” Without that information, it’s difficult or impossible for local authorities to plan effective vaccine distribution, Walensky added.

Since vaccine distribution began in December, the effort has been dogged by criticism of inefficiencies. Reports trickled in from various states that vaccine doses were languishing unused in fridges or being given out at random in last-ditch efforts to get them in arms. To date, more than 41 million doses have been distributed to states and jurisdictions, but only 21.8 million doses are known to have been administered, including only 3.2 million to people getting their second dose.

Still, the pace of vaccination has ramped up since the early days, with the number of daily doses administered now over one million. The positive news has raised criticism that Biden’s goals of 100 million doses in 100 days is too low.

But officials with the administration have pushed back. That goal of a hundred million doses is “a floor; it’s not a ceiling,” Vivek Murthy, Biden’s nominee for surgeon general said in an interview on ABC’s “This Week.”

Moreover, many states are now reporting that they’re running low on vaccine supplies, calling into question whether the pace of a million vaccines a day is sustainable. Notably, over the weekend, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo reported that the state had completely run out of vaccine doses and wouldn’t have more until early this week.

“I think that the supply is probably going to be the most limiting constraint early on,” Walensky said on Sunday. “And we’re really hoping that after that first hundred days, we will have much more production.”

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