Several Democratic governors are criticizing the Trump administration for apparently misleading public health officials about holding a stockpile of Covid-19 vaccines in reserve.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said on Tuesday that the government would begin releasing doses of vaccine that were being held in “physical reserve” to ensure enough supply for second doses.
Both federally approved vaccines, made by Pfizer and Moderna, are administered in two shots spaced several weeks apart.
The Washington Post reported on Friday that despite Azar’s comments, no such federal stockpile of vaccines exists. The newspaper, citing state and federal officials, said the Trump administration had already started shipping its available supply in December.
The Democratic state leaders say the lack of a federal reserve will upset plans to increase the speed and scope of their vaccination campaigns.
“Last night, I received disturbing news, confirmed to me directly by General Perna of Operation Warp Speed: States will not be receiving increased shipments of vaccines from the national stockpile next week, because there is no federal reserve of doses,” Oregon Gov. Kate Brown wrote in a post on Twitter, referring to Army Gen. Gus Perna, the chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed.
“This is a deception on a national scale,” Brown added. “Oregon’s seniors, teachers, all of us, were depending on the promise of Oregon’s share of the federal reserve of vaccines being released to us.”
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, also took to the platform, saying that the administration “must answer immediately for this deception.”
“I’m shocked we were lied to and there is no national reserve,” Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, wrote on Twitter.
He said that the federal announcement about the stockpile release “led us to expect 210,000 doses next week” and that other governors had made similar plans.
“Now we find out we’ll only get 79,000 next week,” Polis wrote.
Gov. Tim Walz of Minnesota, a Democrat, said at a press conference that “they were lying,” referring to the federal government.
Walz and Democratic Govs. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan and Tony Evers of Wisconsin said in a joint statement on Friday that “it has become abundantly clear that not only has the Trump administration botched the rollout of the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine, but also that the American people have been misled about these delays.”
The governors requested permission to purchase vaccines directly from manufacturers.
“Without additional supply or authorization to purchase directly, our states may be forced to cancel plans for public vaccination clinics in the coming weeks, which are expected to vaccinate tens of thousands. It’s time for the Trump administration to do the right thing and help us end this pandemic,” the governors wrote.
Azar responded to the governors in a thread on Twitter on Saturday, calling their claims “completely misleading” and a “debasement.”
“We had a stockpile of reserved second doses from December. We started releasing those second doses at the end of December so people could get their second doses. We progressively continued that release,” Azar wrote.
The HHS chief said that the announcement this week “was that we are releasing the remaining reserved second doses according to the established cadence—ensuring second doses would be available at the right interval—and that going forward we’d no longer have a reserve of second doses.”
“The effort of some governors to mislead the American people to distract from their own distribution failures is unfortunate,” Azar said, referencing data that showed that Michigan, Oregon and Wisconsin had yet to administer the bulk of the vaccines that had already been distributed to those states.
The Trump administration has sparred with Democratic state officials since the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis, at first over supplies of tests and other medical equipment and more recently over vaccine distribution.
President-elect Joe Biden, who will be inaugurated Wednesday, has pledged to elevate the role of the federal government in vaccine delivery. Biden has pledged to have 100 million doses of vaccine administered in his first 100 days in office.
To date, vaccination efforts have lagged far behind official predictions. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 12 million doses have been administered. Health officials had hoped to get that number to 20 million by January.
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