OLYMPIA — Federal officials have said that next week’s planned reduction in COVID-19 vaccines for Washington is a one-time occurrence and not evidence of a broader problem with distributing the new medicine, according to Gov. Jay Inslee’s office.
Inslee spoke Friday afternoon with U.S. Army Gen. Gustave Perna of Operation Warp Speed, who is leading the Trump administration’s vaccine program, according to Tara Lee, spokesperson for the governor.
“He told the governor that this was a one-time incident, and is not indicative of long-term challenges with vaccine production,” wrote Lee in an email. “The governor is pleased that he took responsibility and assurances that there will be a stable vaccine supply going forward.”
Inslee had announced Thursday that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that Washington’s next weekly coronavirus vaccine allocation would be cut by about 40%.
Federal officials Thursday disputed that characterization, saying no official numbers had been set for next week’s distribution.
But confusion abounded in several states that received similar news. The Oregon Department of Human Services also reported that its allotment was being slashed by a similar percentage.
In an email to governors Friday, Darcie Johnston, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services director of governmental affairs, said previous figures given to states were only for planning purposes and that official allocations can only be made the week before shipping because doses must go through quality control.
“Pfizer assures us the United States is on track to receive at least 20 million doses by the end of December. As global production and supply increases, allocations may fluctuate accordingly,” Johnston said.
Federal and state officials are scrambling to deploy the new Pfizer vaccine — which will be joined next week by another vaccine from Moderna — as the pandemic has hit a new overall peak across the nation.
Moderna’s vaccine received emergency approval Friday from the Food and Drug Administration. Federal officials have said they plan to send about 6 million doses of that vaccine out nationwide next week.
Experts have warned that a public health project this expansive would not be without hiccups. But getting vaccines out efficiently is a priority for health care workers exhausted by the monthslong pandemic, as well as for vulnerable residents of long-term care facilities, which are experiencing widespread outbreaks in the Northwest.
“We should anticipate delays and unanticipated challenges and SNAFUs at every stage of this process, from vaccine production to distribution to allocation,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, Public Health – Seattle & King County’s health officer, adding that he wasn’t surprised, but disappointed issues had come up so quickly. “Our situation remains truly hazardous.”