There was confusion on Thursday over how much COVID-19 vaccine Iowa will receive in its initial shipments from the federal government. During her Dec. 3 news conference, Gov. Kim Reynolds said the state had been told it would receive 172,000 doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines by the end of December. But on Wednesday night, the Iowa Department of Public Health issued a statement saying the “federal government” — the department did not name a specific agency — had informed it Iowa “will not receive the volume of vaccine initially anticipated.”
IDPH said it had been told its allotment of the vaccine may be reduced by as much as 30 percent, which would eliminate 52,600 doses from the total the state had been expecting. IDPH didn’t give any reason for the reduction, but said it’s trying to get “additional details from our federal partners.”
The department still has not provided an update explaining what is happening with the vaccine supply, but on Thursday evening it published a breakdown of how much vaccine it is now expecting. According to that breakdown, Iowa should receive 138,300 doses of vaccine (65,000 of Pfizer’s and 73,300 of Moderna’s) by the end of the month. That new amount is a 20 percent reduction from the original 172,000 doses.
IDPH cautioned that the new number was for planning purposes only and may change again before the next shipments of vaccine.
Iowa isn’t the only state experiencing confusion or facing a reduction in the amount of vaccine the federal government will provide.
As of 5 p.m. on Thursday, eight other states — Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, Rhode Island and Washington — reported being told by federal officials there would be a reduction in the amount of vaccine they had previously been told to expect.
The size of reduction varied. Gov. Gina Raimondo of Rhode Island said her state had been told next week’s vaccine shipment would be cut by approximately a third, while Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said the CDC had told his state next week’s shipment would be cut by 40 percent.
.@CDCgov has informed us that WA’s vaccine allocation will be cut by 40 percent next week — and that all states are seeing similar cuts.
This is disruptive and frustrating. We need accurate, predictable numbers to plan and ensure on-the-ground success.
No explanation was given.
— Governor Jay Inslee (@GovInslee) December 17, 2020
Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts said his state had been told next week’s scheduled vaccine delivery would not occur at all, and Nebraska wouldn’t receive its next shipment until the final week of December.
In the face of complaints from a growing number of states, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services put out a statement on Thursday claiming it was not reducing the amount of vaccine it was shipping to states, just spacing out the shipments in a way that “eases the burden” for states when it comes to handling the vaccine.
“As was done with the initial shipments of Pfizer vaccine, jurisdictions will receive vaccine at different sites over several days,” HHS said. “This eases the burden on the jurisdictions and spreads the workload across multiple days.”
HHS said it was “incorrect” to consider shipments containing fewer doses of vaccine to be the same as reductions in the amount of vaccine states will eventually receive.
Appearing on CNBC on Thursday morning, HHS Secretary Alex Azar did not mention the delays to vaccine deliveries, but did say Pfizer had not been able to meet its original goal for vaccine production. In response, Pfizer released a statement denying any production problems and saying that any delays were caused by the failure of the federal government to provide proper instructions.
“Pfizer is not having production issues with our COVID-19 vaccine, and no shipments containing the vaccine are on hold or delayed,” the statement said. “This week, we successfully shipped all 2.9 million doses that we were asked to ship by the U.S. Government to the locations specified by them. We have millions more doses sitting in our warehouse but, as of now, we have not received any shipment instructions for additional doses.”
The Pfizer vaccine is still the only one to receive emergency use authorization from the FDA, but on Thursday afternoon, an FDA advisory panel recommended the same approval be given to the Moderna vaccine. FDA approval is expected to happen on Friday.
“I saw that light at the end of the tunnel, and it seemed to be getting bigger and bigger, and all of a sudden it becomes a pinhole sized light again,” Andy Maas, administrator of the Briarwood Health Center nursing home in Iowa City, told the Des Moines Register regarding the uncertainty surrounding vaccine shipments.
Iowa’s long-term care facilities have been hit hard by COVID-19, and 1,135 of their residents had been killed by the virus as of Thursday. According to IDPH, 147 of the state’s 432 long-term care facilities have ongoing outbreaks of COVID-19. That was an increase of six facilities from Wednesday. Briarwood is not among the facilities experiencing an outbreak.
While outbreaks at long-term care facilities increased between Wednesday and Thursday, the number of COVID-19 patients in Iowa hospitals decreased from 776 to 746.
The number of reported deaths increased dramatically on Thursday, with IDPH reporting a total of 3,541 fatalities from the virus. That was an increase of 97 deaths from Wednesday. Among the deceased were two residents of Johnson County and seven residents of Linn County.
And for the second day in a row, IDPH reported almost 2,000 new cases of COVID-19. Between 10 a.m. on Wednesday and 10 a.m. on Thursday, 1,973 Iowans, including 40 residents of Johnson County and 69 residents of Linn County, were confirmed as having COVID-19.
The newly reported cases brings the total number of Iowans who have tested positive to 262,210.