Biden administration unveils boost to state COVID-19 vaccine shipments; Wolf says Pa. needs more doses

(Sylvia Owusu-Ansah, an emergency department physician at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, receives Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, Mon., 12/14/20)

(*This story was updated at 5 p.m. on 1/26/21 to include comment from Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf)

WASHINGTON — Amid frustrations at the slow pace of the national COVID-19 vaccination effort, the Biden administration says it is boosting the number of doses sent to states each week and will be giving state officials more certainty on the number of doses they can expect in future shipments.

Starting next week, a minimum of 10 million vaccine doses per week will be distributed across states, tribes and territories. That’s an increase from 8.6 million doses per week, and a volume that administration officials say they will maintain for each of at least the next three weeks.

States then will continue to receive allocation estimates three weeks in advance, a shift from the week-ahead figures that the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed had offered to state officials, according to senior Biden administration officials who detailed the policy changes in a briefing call Tuesday afternoon.

The administration also is working to purchase an additional 200 million vaccine doses — 100 million doses each of the vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, the only two that so far have cleared the Food and Drug Administration’s emergency authorization process.

Those purchases would bring the total of vaccine doses expected to be delivered in the U.S. by this summer to 600 million, or enough to vaccinate 300 million Americans with the two-dose vaccines.

President Joe Biden is expected to publicly announce the vaccine distribution changes later Tuesday afternoon.

Governors were briefed on the upcoming changes Tuesday during a call with Biden’s COVID-19 response coordinator, Jeff Zients.

At a press conference Tuesday, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and his new acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam asked for patience in the state’s vaccine roll out as the commonwealth waited for the additional doses from the feds.

Four million people are in the state’s initial round of vaccine targets, including health care workers, the elderly, and people with pre-existing conditions. Each needs two doses to be vaccinated, meaning the commonwealth needs 8 million shots. But so far, Pennsylvania has only received 1.5 million shots.

“One of the big constraints we’re all working under is the lack of supply,” Wolf said. “That’s frustrating.”

However, nearly half a million of those available doses haven’t even been used yet, according to WITF-FM in Harrisburg.

Across the state, patients in search of their shot have confronted long lines and decentralized  distribution coordinated by private health care providers. Both Republican and Democratic politicians have criticized the arrangement.

Pgh. Dem lawmakers call out Wolf over Pa.’s vaccine roll out, ask for more direct communication to residents

Wolf argued this focus on local providers would pay off when the state received more vaccines, but said the state still needed to do better than its middling performance in shot distribution.

One of Biden’s first efforts since taking office last week has been attempting to overhaul the disjointed federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

He’s required more mask-wearing, directed officials to fill gaps in supplies, announced a national strategy to standardize the state-by-state vaccine approach under the Trump administration, and called on Congress to provide more money for the national undertaking.

Incomplete and lagging data has clouded the picture of the vaccine administration campaign. While states have begged for more doses as vaccination appointments are quickly snatched up, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also shows a gap between the vaccine doses delivered to states and those that have been administered.

Of the more than 44 million doses that the CDC says have been delivered, only 23.5 million have gone into the arms of Americans so far. More than 20 million people have gotten their first doses, and roughly 3.5 million have gotten both doses.

Biden has said he wants to see 100 million doses administered during his first 100 days. The U.S. is on pace to meet that goal, and he’s suggested the administration may aim to reach 1.5 million doses per day, up from the current 1 million doses per day.

Much of the increase in the weekly allocation to states will come from more doses of the Moderna vaccine, according to senior administration officials. The additional doses being sought for purchase are expected to be available this summer.

Pfizer officials said Tuesday that they are on pace to deliver 200 million doses to the U.S. by the end of May. That’s earlier than expected, after health care workers have been extracting a sixth dose from vials that were supposed to contain only five. Doing so requires a special type of syringe, and the Biden administration is working to boost supplies of the special syringe.