After learning that the federal vaccine reserve is apparently barren and won’t boost doses to states, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee accused the Trump administration of deception.
“Governors were told repeatedly by [the United States Department of Health and Human Services or HHS] there was a strategic reserve of vaccines, and this week, the American people were told it’d be released to increase supply of vaccine,” Inslee tweeted. “It appears now that no reserve exists. The Trump admin. must answer immediately for this deception.”
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., also wrote on Twitter about the federal government’s “utter failure” and said she was ready to work with President-elect Joe Biden’s administration to get “back on track.”
The sharp criticism fits a pattern: The vaccine rollout has been marked by communication breakdowns between federal officials and those in Washington, among other states, and has led to disappointment and finger-pointing from those in government.
Inslee last week joined governors in eight other states to write to the federal leaders of the vaccine distribution effort, demanding that the U.S. government immediately distribute any doses held in reserve.
On Tuesday, Alex Azar, the HHS secretary, blamed states for the slow pace of vaccination.
Azar said federal officials would no longer hold back vaccine from states to ensure booster doses were available, and would instead send doses immediately to states. Azar also urged governors to expand eligibility for vaccines to include anyone 65 and over and anyone with a health complication that increases COVID-19 risk. Washington state officials have been leery of expanding access so widely until supply is more readily available, worrying about long lines and a chaotic public scramble for doses.
State health officials in a Thursday meeting said the federal government had not boosted the amount of vaccine aimed toward Washington state; that they were confused about when the reserve supply would become available; and that federal officials had not communicated about the timing. They said the federal announcement had left the public with the impression that supply would suddenly double, rapidly opening up access.
“What we are doing is seeking clarity from the federal government,” said Michele Roberts, the state Department of Health’s acting assistant secretary. “It’s a huge public-relations nightmare.”
The Washington Post provided that clarity Friday, when the newspaper reported that no reserve existed and the Trump administration had shipped out all available doses at the end of December.
Murray last summer called for the administration to develop a national vaccine strategy.
“It’s just like the testing rollout,” Murray said in an interview with The Seattle Times earlier this month on vaccine distribution. Last spring, state and local governments scrambled to establish testing sites after faulty federal testing kits and nationwide supply chain problems slowed progress.
“Our local health officials need to know the stability of supply,” Murray said. “Without a federal plan or good information, they have a tough job in front of them right now.”
The HHS did not immediately respond to questions about the vaccine reserve.