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COVID-19 vaccines sit at hospitals as doctors, pharmacies await doses

Emily Kopp, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in News & Features

The administration’s recent approach also led to hospital administrators with little contact with patients getting doses before front-line health care workers not affiliated with major health care systems. With limited supplies, it made sense to only ship the vaccine to places like big hospitals, Stack said.

“In an ideal world, I would rather have adequate vaccines to say it’s going to every pharmacy and every doctor’s office and every hospital that wants it,” said Stack. “But there’s so little of it that if you sprinkle it like pixie dust all over the state, a site may only get five doses per week, [and] nobody knows who may or may not have vaccine. So you have a market failure.”

Uncertain shipments from Operation Warp Speed led some hospitals to hold back doses for fear of not getting out a second booster shot. Inconsistent shipments have continued weeks into the vaccination program, according to public health departments in Vermont and Tennessee.

As vaccinators, public health staff and state governors grapple with these complexities, it’s not clear who is in charge of answering questions.

Providers have unanswered questions about how soon hospitals can move through priority groups and how they will get enough ancillary supplies to keep giving six doses that can be squeezed from Pfizer vials instead of the previously predicted five.


Providers say they couldn’t get clear answers from state health departments, and state health departments say they can’t get through to Operation Warp Speed.

“Our communications with Operation Warp Speed have not been as strong as with CDC, but a lot of times CDC didn’t even know the details of what was going on on the Warp Speed side of things,” Plescia said. “CDC often didn’t have the full details on allocation numbers.”

Major hospitals weren’t always able to reach Operation Warp Speed either. In the AHA’s letter to Azar, the group indicated that HHS is not having regular calls with stakeholders as it did with the distribution of the therapeutic remdesivir.

“It is unclear who is responsible for answering questions,” Pollack wrote.

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