WASHINGTON – Major winter storms, extreme cold and power outages have shut down more than 2,000 vaccination sites and delayed delivery of 6 million doses of vaccine to all 50 states last week, the senior advisor to the United States said on Friday. White House, Andy Slavitt, during a briefing with reporters.
Extreme weather conditions have spread across large swathes of the United States since February 14. Chilling snowfall and record-cold temperatures hit Oklahoma and Arkansas and triggered power outages across Texas.
The storms have delayed the Biden administration’s efforts to speed up vaccine delivery. Earlier this month, more than 1.5 million doses per day were delivered on average. Preliminary data from last week shows a sharp drop, but full numbers are not yet available.
The weather has delayed President Joe Biden’s visit to a factory in Kalamazoo, Michigian, producing vaccine from drugmaker Pfizer from Thursday to Friday.
The weather is improving and deliveries are resuming, with 1.4 million doses shipped on Friday, Slavitt said. But the backups will take a long time to erase.
“We anticipate that all pending doses will be delivered within the next week, with most being delivered within the next few days,” he said.
The weather has caused disruption throughout the supply chain, Slavitt said.
A plant-based package of vaccines from pharmaceutical company Moderna was taken offline by a winter storm.
“The roads are cleared for workers to leave their homes,” Slavitt said. “They are working today through Sunday to pack late orders.”
Road closures have delayed deliveries between manufacturing, distribution and shipping sites. And workers at the three major shipping companies, UPS, FedEx and McKesson, were caught in the snow, he added, delaying shipments.
Vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech must be kept extremely cold when in storage, but Slavitt told CNN on Thursday that “there has not been a single vaccine spoiled” because of the delays.
“The vaccines are safe and sound in our factories and centers, ready to be shipped as soon as the weather permits,” he told reporters on Friday.
The disruption was severe enough that Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker could discuss sending the State National Guard to rescue doses trapped in Kentucky and Tennessee.
After federal authorities rushed 135,000 doses to the state, Baker spokeswoman Kate Reilly said on Friday that the governor “appreciates the efforts made to get this critical cargo here and does not anticipate further delays of the federal government’s share of vaccine shipments at this time.
Slavitt said the federal government is asking vaccinators to extend hours and offer additional appointments to catch up.
“We will be able to catch up, but we understand that this will mean asking for more people,” he said.
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