SEATTLE - Washington state has so far used just one-sixth of its expected December supply of the highly-anticipated COVID-19 vaccine.
The slow vaccine administration rate is duplicated nationwide. While the goal of federal officials was to get first doses to 20 million Americans by the end of the year, with two days left in the year, so far just over 2 million people have been vaccinated.
President Donald Trump is putting the blame on states, tweeting Wednesday, "The Federal Government has distributed the vaccines to the states. Now it is up to the states to administer. Get moving!"
But Washington state health officials said actions at the federal level are preventing a smoother rollout.
"We have an incredible amount of real appreciation of our federal partners for obviously even getting to the point that we have vaccines that are available, but really, additional pieces of that related to communications and the funding and the logistics, all that come into play," said Dr. Umair Shah, the state’s new secretary of health.
Nearly 60,000 first doses have been administered so far in Washington, far less than the more than 350,000 expected to be delivered in December.
Acting Assistant Secretary Michele Roberts told Q13 News the state delay is due to a number of factors.
"First of all, these are large scale vaccination efforts that are happening at the local level and so that really takes a tremendous amount of community planning that we’re trying to support at the state," Roberts said.
Frontline health care workers and those at long-term care facilities are first in line to get vaccinated in the state. But as vaccine vials get doled out, it’s up to individual providers to set up the clinics.
"I think part of the challenge for them has been that right now we don’t have a predictable delivery schedule from CDC," Roberts said.
She said expected weekly allocations of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are being delivered by the federal government over multiple days throughout the week, making it hard for providers to plan and predict what is showing up when.
For example, she said most of the state’s Moderna allocation last week, which totaled 127,900 doses, was delivered on Thursday, right on top of the holiday weekend.
Officials believe the bottleneck will smooth out in the New Year.
"We do see that this is going to improve as we get through some of those initial hiccups if you will, or challenges or impediments that are in the system," Shah said.
State officials said they are relying on large health care systems that have vaccines and clinics set up to reach out to smaller community health care providers and offer vaccinations, so everyone eligible has the opportunity to get a shot.
In addition, on Wednesday the state announced it will expand eligibility under the 1a "first priority" vaccine group to put more vaccines to use. If a provider has vaccinated all eligible frontline health care workers who want a dose and has vaccines left over, the state said that provider should move on to vaccinate all workers in a health care setting, in its own system and in the community, until all vaccines are used.
Officials said the state will announce who qualifies as 1b and 1c priority vaccine groups next week.