The shrinking Pfizer vaccine allotment: An Indiana mystery wrapped in a riddle

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Indiana might be called the “make-do-with-less” state.

But now the question is, exactly how much less?

Last Wednesday, state health officials said they expected to initially receive 55,575 doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, and had already begun vaccinating front-line health care workers.

But just five days later, state officials and hospitals are keeping mum about how many doses they actually received, except to say it was, well, not as much as they had hoped.

The Indiana Hospital Association said Monday that the Pfizer distribution was “less than expected,” but did not provide a figure. Nor did the Indiana Department of Health, except to say vaccine allocations “continue to be fluid.”

“We have been told that our Pfizer allocation will be lower than initially discussed,” a health department spokeswoman said Friday, without offering any numbers.

Some local hospitals, however, including Ascension St. Vincent, said they received the amount they had expected. “At this time, we have not been notified that our future expected allocations have been reduced,” Danielle Eagleson, spokeswoman for Ascension St. Vincent, said in an email to IBJ.

Community Health Network said it received its second shipment of Pfizer vaccines Monday. “Both times, I’m told we got what was expected, at 1950 doses,” spokeswoman Kris Kirschner wrote in an email to IBJ.

The Associated Press reported that at least 10 states—including Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Connecticut and Georgia—were reporting sizeable drops in their vaccine shipments. Washington state told National Public Radio that its vaccine allocation this week had been cut by 40% without an explanation.

“This is disruptive and frustrating,” Gov. Jay Inslee told NPR. “We need accurate, predictable numbers to plan and ensure on-the-ground success.”

Iowa said its shipment could drop by 30%. And Idaho said its shipment could be cut roughly in half.

The good news is that federal regulators have given emergency authorization to Moderna Inc. to ship its vaccine to hospitals, and some say that could start to take up the slack.

“The first distribution of the Moderna vaccine is already being shipped to hospitals, and is scheduled to arrive this week,” the Indiana Hospital Association said in an email to IBJ. “Between the Moderna distribution and less demand during the holiday season, there is enough vaccine for frontline healthcare workers who have scheduled their appointments. Next week we are expecting increased supply of both vaccines.”

Indiana said last week that five hospitals have received the Pfizer vaccine, and it expected that number to climb to 50 by this week. For now, the vaccine is limited to front-line health care workers and nursing home residents. More than 40,000 health-care workers have registered to get the vaccine as of last Wednesday, said Dr. Lindsay Weaver, Indiana’s chief medical officer. She called it a “rapidly evolving situation.”

Eskenazi Health said that last week it received 975 doses of the Pfizer vaccine. “We are still going through our supply from last week and continue to vaccinate frontline workers this week,” Eskenazi spokesman Todd Harper said in an email to IBJ.

State officials, of course, are cautioning that ordinary Hoosiers will need to cool their heels to get a vaccine.

“It will be a number of months before we can make the vaccine available to every Hoosier who wants it across our state,” Dr. Kristina Box, Indiana health commissioner, said Wednesday.

The New York Times published a 50-state, interactive survey to show readers how many doses each state might get. Arizona, for example, expects to receive 383,750 doses by the end of the year. California expects to receive 2 million doses.

And for Indiana, there’s this: “Indiana officials said they expected to receive a limited supply of vaccines and that details of those shipments were evolving.”

The Associated Press said that initial numbers of available doses that were provided to states were projections based on information from the manufacturers, not fixed allocations. Some state officials may have misunderstood that, the official said.

The two officials also said that changes the federal government made to the delivery schedule, at the request of governors, may be contributing to a mistaken impression that fewer doses are coming. “They will get their weekly allocation, it just won’t come to them on one day,” one official told the AP.

Pfizer, for its part, said its manufacturing and distribution is running as planned.

“Pfizer has not had any production issues with our COVID-19 vaccine, and no shipments containing the vaccine are on hold or delayed,” spokesman Eamonn Nolan told the AP in an email. “We are continuing to dispatch our orders to the locations specified by the U.S. government.”

The company said in a written statement that this week it “successfully shipped all 2.9 million doses that we were asked to ship by the U.S. Government to the locations specified by them. We have millions more doses sitting in our warehouse but, as of now, we have not received any shipment instructions for additional doses.”

Pfizer said it remains confident it can deliver up to 50 million doses globally this year and up to 1.3 billion doses in 2021.

Just how many of those doses will make it to Indiana remains a huge mystery.

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4 thoughts on “The shrinking Pfizer vaccine allotment: An Indiana mystery wrapped in a riddle

  1. Hey.. The goal on project Warp Speed was to get a vaccine. How could Trump have know you need to plan delivery logistics? That would have taken a stable genius to know that!

    It is a long way from having a vaccine to having everyone vaccinated and we might just find out how long…. 🙁