Hazardous winter conditions delayed the distribution of six million doses of coronavirus vaccines this week, the White House announced Friday, hindering lifesaving vaccine drives just as they were gaining momentum from a shaky start.
The delayed doses amount to a three-day supply. Thousands of Americans already lost their appointments for second doses because they never arrived or the vaccination site closed. The ripple effects are expected to stretch into next week while states await delayed shipments and scramble to get their vaccination efforts back on track.
The bad winter weather has slowed the arrival of vaccine in all 50 states, according to Andy Slavitt, the White House’s senior adviser on the government’s response to COVID-19.
Vaccine shippers—FedEx, UPS and the drug distributor McKesson—”have all faced challenges as workers have been snowed in and unable to get to work,” Slavitt said. Road closures in some areas have held up the delivery of vaccine. And more than 2,000 vaccination sites are in places where electricity was knocked out by the storms, so they have been unable to receive the vaccine.
Because the two vaccines allowed for emergency use—manufactured by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech and by Moderna—require various degrees of cold storage, it has been important not to risk vaccine arriving in places where scarce doses could be wasted because they could not be properly stored because of storms or power outages.
“The vaccines are sitting safe and sound in our factories and hubs,” Slavitt said.
The extent of the interruptions have been uneven, with some states announcing minimal disruption because they had vaccines in reserve and others struggling to reschedule appointments. But the problems spread beyond swaths of Texas, the southeast and the Midwest pummeled by snow and ice—because major distribution centers in Louisville and Memphis experienced bad weather.
That means places spared from punishing weather, like California, have paused vaccinations while waiting for supplies from hard-hit states. San Francisco Bay area jurisdictions announced major vaccination delays due to Midwest weather, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, D, postponed more than 12,000 vaccinations at city-run sites scheduled Friday after two shipments of Moderna vaccines were delayed because planes couldn’t fly in the weather.He said Thursday the city is automatically rescheduling many canceled slots and prioritizing second dose appointments.
“It’s a nationwide problem,” Garcetti said at a news conference. “We are in a race against time, a race between infections and injections, and anything that slows down our progress is unacceptable.”
Confusion followed when hundreds still showed up to Dodger Stadium for vaccine appointments scheduled Friday morning. Some told local television station KTLA they never received a cancellation notice. Southern California has been especially hard-hit by COVID-19, with a massive winter surge that stretched hospitals to their limits and exhausted oxygen supplies.
In New York City, officials could not schedule more than 30,000 appointments this week and delayed the opening of new vaccination sites in Queens and Staten Island because of delayed shipments. Mayor Bill de Blasio, D, like other local leaders, said the weather delays aggravated an already stressed distribution system providing far fewer doses than needed.
“It’s been too hand to mouth in general, and then it’s been made even worse by the storm,” de Blasio said at a Thursday news conference. “There are so many things that we could be doing right now to get tens of thousands more people vaccinated, but unfortunately, Mother Nature now is causing us the most immediate problem with these supply delays, and we of course will overcome them and keep moving forward.”
There have been few reports of vaccines spoiled because of power outages. Houston garnered some attention after officials rushed to administer more than 5,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine in one day, but Moderna staff later assured the city the thawing vials could be safely refrozen.
Despite the storm-related hiccups, vaccine providers say they are well positioned to bounce back to normalcy.
The federal government is aiming to “get the backlog of vaccines out next week,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday.
“We anticipate we cannot only get the backlog out, but we can stay on pace with what we are planning to distribute to states next week,” Psaki said. “So we are expecting we are going to be able to catch up next week.”
Slavitt, the White House official, sought to reassure people who recently lost appointments for a second shot, as both vaccines require—21 days after the first shot for Pfizer and 28 days for Moderna. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention previously said people can receive their second shot up to six weeks after the first and from a different maker in “exceptional circumstances.”
“It is not a problem,” Slavitt said. “That will be accommodated completely.”