Trump blames states as he faces criticism for slow Covid vaccine rollout

President Donald Trump tried on Wednesday to deflect criticism for a slower-than-expected rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine, saying the U.S. has distributed the lifesaving shots but states have to administer them.

More than 11.4 million doses of Pfizer and Moderna’s two-dose vaccines have been distributed across the country as of Monday morning, but just about 2.1 million shots have been given to people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s a far cry from U.S. health officials’ original goal of injecting at least 20 million Americans with their first shots before the end of the year.

“The Federal Government has distributed the vaccines to the states,” the president said in a tweet. “Now it is up to the states to administer. Get moving!”

President-elect Joe Biden and public health specialists have criticized Trump’s immunization program in recent days for failing to administer doses as quickly as they are distributed.

Michael Pratt, a spokesman for Operation Warp Speed, said the U.S. is close to meeting its goal of injecting 20 million Americans with their first shot by the end of the year. He said the CDC’s data is likely off due to delays in reporting.

“Operation Warp Speed remains on track to have approximately 40 million doses of vaccine and allocate 20 million doses for first vaccinations by the end of December 2020, with distribution of the 20 million first doses spanning into the first week of January as states place orders for them,” he said in a statement.

The CDC acknowledged delays in its vaccine data from the states and jurisdictions that collect and report it to federal officials, among other factors.

“A large difference between the number of doses distributed and the number of doses administered is expected at this point in the COVID vaccination program due to several factors,” the agency said.

The federal government also hasn’t yet launched its vaccine distribution partnership with major pharmacy chains like CVS and Walgreens, which will be tasked with vaccinating long-term care residents, the CDC added.

Dr. Luciana Borio, a coronavirus advisor for Biden, said the incoming administration will have to “dramatically ramp up” support to states to help with vaccine administration. 

“I get the idea of having states having some autonomy over vaccination, but that doesn’t mean that we’re just going to drop a bunch of vaccines at their sites and let them deal with it,” Borio said Wednesday on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” She’s a former Food and Drug Administration official who also worked in the Trump administration as director for medical and biodefense preparedness at the National Security Council. 

Borio complimented the Trump administration’s push to quickly develop and produce the vaccines. However, she said, “it doesn’t really work unless everybody has access to vaccine who wants one.” 

“Providing the states with some autonomy of how to best use the vaccines within their immediate needs does not mean you leave them without meaningful support and logistics support to be able to actually carry out the implementation of vaccinations to the American people, and that’s what has happened,” she said.

While the latest coronavirus relief package from Congress provides over $8 billion to states for the vaccine rollout, Borio said she considers it to be “a down payment.” 

“All the efforts to produce safe and effective vaccines in record time will be for naught if we do not speed up the process to get vaccines into people’s arms.”

Dr. Leana Wen, former Baltimore health commissioner, said in a phone interview that the nation’s public health departments already needed more funding and have now been overwhelmed for months working to respond to the pandemic. She said the federal government should provide more resources to help administer the shots.

“This is giving me flashbacks of all the problems in testing,” she said. “The responsibility was given to locals and states, but no resources or lack of resources to actually get there.”

Biden on Tuesday slammed Trump’s effort to rollout the vaccine, saying that the Trump administration’s “plan to distribute vaccines is falling behind, far behind.”

“As I long feared and warned, the effort to distribute and administer the vaccine is not progressing as it should,” he said at a news briefing.

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