State expects roughly 70,000 fewer COVID-19 vaccines this month

After a federal mix-up, state health officials revealed Wednesday they expect roughly 70,000 fewer vaccines to be delivered in December than originally anticipated.

With emergency authorizations expected for Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, Operation Warp Speed had given the state health department estimated deliveries of both that numbered more than 400,000 doses in December. Then it abruptly changed.

"I realized that there was a delta to the numbers that I personally thought were available and ready for distribution and what was releasable," said Gen. Gustave Perna, chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed.

"What this means for Washington is we’re receiving less than we initially anticipated, we still believe it’s well over 330,000 vaccines, but it’s not the initial 400,000 we thought," explained Michele Roberts, who is serving as the health department’s acting assistant secretary. 

With roughly 500,000 Washingtonians believed to be in the first vaccine priority group - made up of frontline health care workers and staff and residents of long term care facilities - the state estimates it’ll be the end of January now before it gets to vaccinating the next in line, a category yet to be decided. Before the allocation reduction, health officials had cited a mid-January target date. 

Roberts said the state is still considering which population groups will be next, between older adults, essential workers and those with comorbid conditions. 

"Those are the groups that are coming in the future next, and what we really need to ensure is we have more providers enroll and more places for people to go to get vaccinated," Roberts said. "So even though I said we won’t be ready to move into the next groups until later in January, we are working on building that infrastructure now."

That infrastructure could include enrolling more pharmacies and even standing up community vaccination events. Roberts said they are currently working with local health departments on those ideas. 

More than 30,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine have already been doled out to health care workers in the state, including Lisa Streissguth-Kasberg, a charge nurse at Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center in Vancouver, Washington. 

"I am so honored that I have received my first COVID vaccine," she said. "I had very minimal side effects, my arm was slightly sore and I had a very mild headache the next day but it is gone. That was a week ago and I can’t wait to get the second vaccine the beginning of January."

The federal government has already set aside the initial second doses to be delivered to states three weeks after the first doses, so supply should not be an issue. States prioritized frontline health care workers like Streissguth-Kasberg, who treats COVID patients daily. 

"I cannot count how many times in recent months I’ve had to have difficult conversations with family members over the phone," she said.

The arrival of two different kinds of vaccines to combat COVID-19 follows the deadliest week in the U.S. from the virus.