Governors bitterly accused the Trump administration Friday of deceiving the states about the amount of COVID-19 vaccine they can expect to receive as they ramp up vaccinations for senior citizens and others.
But the government attributed the anger to confusion and misguided expectations on the part of the states.
The clash over the pace of the government’s COVID-19 vaccine allotments threatens to escalate tensions between the Trump administration and some states over who is responsible for the relatively slow start to the vaccination drive against the scourge that has killed over 390,000 Americans.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, a Democrat, said he was among several governors deceived by federal officials about availability of a strategic supply of doses.
“This one is so far beyond the pale to be almost unimaginable,” he said. “Who’s going to be prosecuted for this? What are the states to do when they’ve been lied to and made all their plans around this?”
Alena Yarmosky, a spokeswoman for Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, said governors were “told explicitly” on Tuesday that they would be provided additional doses.
Northam, a Democrat and a doctor, had moved quickly as a result to announce that the state would expand vaccine eligibility.
Now, Northam’s administration is trying to determine whether those additional supplies don’t exist, Yarmosky said.
“What we’re seeing is fully in line with the dysfunction that has characterized the Trump administration’s entire response to COVID-19. President-elect (Joe) Biden cannot be sworn in fast enough,” she said.
Michael Pratt, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said that states may have been confused in their expectations but that there has been no reduction in doses shipped to them.
Biden alluded to the tensions Friday and pledged to communicate better with states so they know how much vaccine will arrive and when.
“Right now we’re hearing that they can’t plan because they don’t know,” he said. “That stops when we’re in office.”
As of Friday, the government had distributed over 31 million doses to states, U.S. territories and major cities. About 12.3 million doses had been administered, according to online tracking by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
For weeks, Operation Warp Speed had been holding large amounts of vaccine in reserve to ensure that those who got their first dose received their second one on time.
The practice was a hedge against possible manufacturing delays. When HHS Secretary Alex Azar announced on Tuesday that he was ending the practice, it was interpreted as essentially doubling the expected supply.
But there was another huge change: He also urged states to open vaccinations to everyone over 65 and younger people with certain health problems, even though most hadn’t yet finished dispensing shots to all the health workers first in line.
The result was a scramble by state and local health authorities to figure out exactly how much vaccine they would receive in the coming weeks and how to ramp up shots for a public with higher expectations.
Pratt said doses that were being held in reserve to provide second shots were released last week. It’s unclear, however, if they all shipped prior to the Trump administration’s announcement early this week that states should open up vaccination to more people. He said states are getting the required second doses they need and the number of first doses is stable.
Pfizer said it is working around the clock to produce millions of doses a day, adding, “We foresee no issues in delivering on the commitments we have made” to supply Operation Warp Speed. Moderna didn’t immediately respond to questions about its supplies.
Associated Press writer Gillian Flaccus in Portland, Oregon, contributed to this report.