What’s causing the delay in COVID vaccine distribution?

Earlier this month, the Trump administration said it expected to have enough coronavirus vaccine doses for 20 million Americans by the end of the year. But this week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated that as of Dec. 28, only 2.1 million Americans had received the first of two doses, out of approximately 11.5 million that have been distributed. It’s the end of the year, and the doses have not reached 20 million. What’s causing the lag? Yahoo News medical contributor Dr. Kavita Patel explains.

Video Transcript

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DONALD TRUMP: And we will deliver 100 million doses of a safe vaccine before the end of the year.

ALEX AZAR: Based on current production schedules, we expect to have enough doses to vaccinate 20 million Americans by the end of this year.

KAVITA PATEL: According to the CDC, about 2.1 million Americans have received vaccinations, and that number might increase by several tens of thousands just because of the delay in information, but certainly nowhere close to 20 million.

JOE BIDEN: The Trump administration's plan to distribute vaccines is falling behind, far behind. If it continues to move as it is now, it's going to take years, not months, to vaccinate the American people.

KAVITA PATEL: There is a discrepancy. 2.1 million people have gotten vaccinated, but according to Operation Warp Speed, approximately 12 million doses should be out the door. So it begs the question of where are these doses? where are they are sitting? and how do we get them into people's arms?

I think the origins of the source of the problem stem, frankly, from the fact that the federal government is handling at least the procurement or at least the purchasing of these vaccines through arrangements with the manufacturers, but then they're telling the states and jurisdictions how much of that allotment is going to a particular state. Most of the states got less than they expected, and it's not clear-- with the Pfizer vaccine, it was because of the delay in FDA quality control. It's not clear why there's a delay.

I do think that states which are incredibly underfunded, stressed, and dealing with their own COVID testing and treatment dilemmas are now being asked to do this incredibly logistically complicated effort to vaccinate people. So it boils down to a lack of federal guidance and that there is state-to-state variability. If you're in the state of Texas, for example, the next priority population after front-line health-care workers and nursing homes is actually people over the age of 16 with chronic conditions.

That's different, for example, from the District of Columbia, where I am, where they're following the CDC's guidance. So the next phase will be, in the district, after health-care workers will be front-line essential workers like public transit and grocery-store operators. And those differences are confusing because if I drive from one jurisdiction to another, I can have a completely different set of options for vaccination, and that is very confusing. It would probably be better if we just had a national guidance and did it in a very straightforward way so that there wasn't this confusion.

I think that what you're hearing from a lot of providers, even people like myself, is frustration that it often feels like there's a lot more bureaucracy than there is kind of execution, and I think a number of us are waiting to be part of the solution for distribution. I do expect that this rate will pick up dramatically. Remember, it's all new.

Here's the big if. We don't have enough vaccine supply with just Pfizer and Moderna. We're going to need other manufacturers to have successful trials and be authorized for us to get to a summer where we have a majority of people vaccinated.

I'm predicting fall of 2021 when we will have a larger proportion of the United States vaccinated. But until then, there's no change to what we're doing.