As we await word on a second vaccine authorization for use in the US, the glitches are striking an earlier distribution through the “Operation Warp Motion” of the federal government. This week, the US saw the first use of the vaccine developed by the Pfizer / BioNTech collaboration. But soon thereafter, many states began to say that orders for shipments would be cut in the coming weeks. After something the federal government had indicated the problem might be in production, Pfizer issued a statement indicating it was ready to ship to its warehouse but no indication of where to ship them is.
All in all, it is about what you would expect in the first weeks of such a big undertaking.
State of denial
One of the first states to report problems was Illinois, where its governor, JB Pritzker, said there were indications that it would receive half the expected dose of the Pfizer / Bioentech vaccine next week. Since then, more than a dozen states have indicated that they will receive lower doses than planned in the second week (this article is a fairly comprehensive list).
In addition to the obvious problem of people with fewer vaccinations, this creates problems for states that are working through a vaccination of a set of populations using risk-based priorities. For example, the availability of doses for health care workers will determine when vaccinations can be transferred to the nursing home population; It will be important to plan for changing the target population for a quick and effective change. It is very difficult to manage these infections without knowing when enough vaccines will be available.
When it comes to why orders are being cut, we are hearing many excuses. In a press conference on the delivery effort, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar pointed fingers at Pfizer, which is manufacturing the vaccine in the US. Azar said, “We have recently been made aware of the various challenges that may occur in their manufacture, and we will ensure that whatever the mechanism is, we provide them with full support so that they can produce for the American people Can. ” said.
But Azhar is not the only story being told by the government. The Washington Post was told that the issue was when the week’s dose was determined. Originally, it was planned for Friday, when the entire week’s manufacturing run was completed; It has since been moved to Tuesday when the low dose will be met. This would necessarily cut down on the availability numbers given to the states.
Unfortunately, none of this is completely true. In response to this news, Pfizer has released a statement stating that there are no production issues. “This week, we successfully dispatched all 2.9 million doses we were asked by the US government to ship to the locations designated by them,” the statement said. “There are millions more doses to sit in our warehouse but, so far we have not received any shipment instructions for the additional dose.”
Given that BioNTech became involved with Pfizer due to the latter’s manufacturing capabilities and apparent credibility issues with the Trump administration on the subject of COVID-19, it is likely that Pfizer’s statement is more close to the truth.
Not all bad news
The warp motion is a large and complex project in which many vaccine manufacturers will eventually dose the federal government, which will then distribute them to the states, each of which is planned to be populated according to different priorities. It is not at all surprising that there will be some increasing pain. Hopefully, they are the same vaccine supplier, while the complexity may be somewhat limited.
But the single supplier status may change as early as today, based on a decision by the FDA advisory board that a vaccine from the modern is effective. Based on preliminary data, Modern expects it to supply too many vaccines as soon as it receives a formal emergency use authorization from the FDA, which will complicate distribution but reduce supply bottlenecks.
In the long run, there are signs of other opportunities to increase vaccine supply. After rejecting an offer from Pfizer to purchase additional doses of the vaccine earlier this year, the federal government may be close to a deal to buy more. Pfizer had worked with its raw material suppliers to determine how much vaccine it could produce; When the US turned it down, the company found other countries to sell the supplements. Now, it is indicating that if the US government can ensure an increased supply of its vaccine ingredients, it will sell the country additional supplements.
At the moment, the US only has a commitment to purchase enough vaccines to cover half of its population by mid-2021, making additional doses necessary. Last week, the government managed to get a commitment from Modern for another 100 million doses of its vaccine. Major pharmacy chains are expecting widespread availability this spring, indicating a belief that excess supply will be trimmed.
A little help for current supply bottlenecks that have become apparent this week is that the usual “overfill” found in vaccine bottles can sometimes be extracted from a five-dose bottle of Pfizer vaccine in sufficient quantities. While it will not handle big-picture supply issues, it will undoubtedly help individual facilities protect their employees early in the vaccination program.