Biden expected to distribute all available vaccine doses to states

A medical worker holds a vial of COVID-19 vaccine. (Photo courtesy of Truman Medical Centers/University Health)

WASHINGTON — More COVID-19 vaccine doses will be available to states sooner under changes that the incoming Biden administration is expected to make to how the Trump administration has been allocating those shots.

That’s according to comments a Biden transition spokesman made to CNN on Friday, indicating that President-elect Joe Biden will shift to “releasing available doses immediately.”

News of the policy shift comes after a group of Democratic governors — including those from Michigan, Kansas, Minnesota and Wisconsin — this week called on federal officials to accelerate distribution of the available vaccines from Pfizer/BioTech and Moderna.

Iowa received fewer initial doses of the vaccines than initially expected, and Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds has joined other governors in complaining about the pace of immunization at nursing homes by pharmacy chains CVS and Walgreen’s through the Long Term Care Pharmacy Partnership. A spokesman for Reynolds said Friday that Reynolds participated in a conference call Thursday with Trump administration officials and leaders of the pharmacy chains.

“The call was an opportunity for Gov. Reynolds and governors across the country to voice their concerns and frustration with the LTC Pharmacy Partnership,” governor’s office spokesman Pat Garrett said in an email to reporters. “They were promised better responsiveness, transparency, and efficiency going forward but Iowa will monitor progress and continue to follow up if improvement is not seen.” 

The Trump administration, through its Operation Warp Speed working group, has held back the second dose of the two-shot vaccine regimens, saying the approach is to ensure that the follow-up dose will be available for each person who receives the initial shot. The data on whether the current vaccines are effective is based on taking two doses over the course of two to three weeks.

But the vaccine rollout has gone slower than some have hoped. Of the 21.4 million doses distributed to states since federal health officials approved the first vaccine in mid-December, only 6.25 million doses have been given, according to a state-by-state tally by Bloomberg.

In a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Operation Warp Speed Chief Operating Officer Gen. Gustave Perna, eight Democratic governors argued that the agreements in place with vaccine manufacturers should give officials certainty that the distribution pipeline is “robust” and that they do not need to reserve doses.

“While some of these life-saving vaccines are sitting in Pfizer freezers, our nation is losing 2,661 Americans each day, according to the latest seven-day average,” the governors wrote. “The failure to distribute these doses to states who request them is unconscionable and unacceptable.”

“Our states are ready to work around the clock to ramp up distribution, get more shots in arms, and save more American lives,” they added.

The letter was signed by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.

Biden transition spokesman TJ Ducklo said in the statement to CNN that more information about how the incoming administration would shift distribution efforts would be announced next week.

“The president-elect believes we must accelerate distribution of the vaccine while continuing to ensure the Americans who need it most get it as soon as possible,” Ducklo said. “He supports releasing available doses immediately, and believes the government should stop holding back vaccine supply so we can get more shots in Americans’ arms now.”

Laura Olson
Laura covers the nation's capital as a senior reporter for States Newsroom, a network of nonprofit outlets that includes Iowa Capital Dispatch. Her areas of coverage include politics and policy, lobbying, elections, and campaign finance.