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Winter weather delays vaccine shipments to all 50 states

Backlog of 6 million doses represent about three days of delayed shipping, White House says

Winter storms have led to a nationwide backlog in the delivery of 6 million COVID-19 vaccine doses, setting the time-sensitive vaccination effort back days in communities across the country, the White House said Friday. 

“All 50 states have been impacted. The 6 million doses represent about three days of delayed shipping,” Andy Slavitt, White House senior adviser on COVID-19, said during a briefing. “As weather conditions improve, we are already working to clear this backlog.”

Slavitt said 1.4 million doses were in transit Friday and backlogged doses will arrive next week, most in the next several days.

Several states told CQ Roll Call they are experiencing delays of vaccines made by Moderna, which has more durable storage that allows it to be shipped to rural communities and other places where access to health care is more challenging and the pandemic has been more deadly. The officials said they did not know when they could expect more.

The Arizona Department of Health Services reported that it had “no estimated time of arrival” for delayed Moderna doses. The Florida Department of Health also reported it did not have a timeline from the federal government on when to expect delayed Moderna doses. 

Vaccination hubs run by corporate partners have scrambled to ship out vaccines due to the snow and ice. 

FedEx said it is moving vaccines to its second-largest hub at Indianapolis International Airport and other smaller hubs in Oakland, Calif., and Newark, N.J., to reroute shipments.

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FedEx, UPS and McKesson all emphasized in emailed statements that they are working to ensure shipments are on time.

“We are in regular and frequent contact and tight partnership with federal agencies, vaccine manufacturers, and others in the supply chain. … Weather conditions only amplify our coordination,” UPS spokesman Matthew O’Connor said. 

Slavitt said vaccinators planned to work over the weekend to catch up on missed doses. 

The Houston Health Department said Thursday it would resume thousands of vaccinations Saturday.

Meanwhile, vaccine appointments across the country have been delayed.

“More than 2,000 vaccine sites are located in areas with power outages so they are currently unable to receive dosages,” Slavitt said.

It’s not yet clear how many doses may have been spoiled due to power outages in Texas. 

“We’re asking providers that aren’t able to store vaccines due to power outages to transfer it elsewhere or administer it so it doesn’t spoil. Fortunately, it seems they’ve been able to do that, and reports of vaccine spoiling have been minimal,” said Douglas Loveday, spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services. “I don’t have numbers at this point. We’ll likely know more down the road.”

Slavitt said he expected a reduction in seven-day vaccination volume this week due to the weather but told reporters they expect to make up for the decrease in vaccinations in the coming weeks.

“We are asking states, sites and vaccinators to help us catch up and to get Americans vaccinated. We know many Americans are awaiting their second dose and many more their first dose,” he said.

Other vaccine appointments could be at risk of cancellation if more doses are not received soon, some jurisdictions have reported. 

Philadelphia has been able to transfer doses among sites to ensure appointments are not canceled, but that could change if more supply does not arrive soon. 

“If delays continue for much longer, operations may be affected and some clinics may be forced to close until they are resupplied,” said James Garrow, spokesman for the Philadelphia Department of Public Health.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said Friday that more than 41 million people have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and stressed that monitoring has confirmed the safety of the vaccine.

The task force expects to make a series of announcements in the next eight to 10 days related to access to transportation, mobile access and apportionment reservations for underserved communities that face additional barriers.

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