State governors and health officials angrily lashed out at the Trump administration on Friday after learning its promise to release the nation’s “entire supply” of vaccine doses would result in only a modest bump to their stockpiles and wouldn’t be nearly enough to cover the seniors that federal officials said should now be eligible.
Administration officials pushed back, insisting it was yet another misunderstanding about a rolling system that is continually accepting and shipping out new doses.
The federal government had been holding some second doses in reserve, but was releasing them to the states on a continual basis so people could make their second appointments on time.
“We’re releasing the entire supply we have for you to order, rather than holding second doses,” Health Secretary Alex Azar announced earlier this week in a call to governors.
The White House also called on the governors to expand eligibility beyond health care workers and nursing home residents to anyone over 65 years old.
“This is not a supply issue at this moment in time. We actually have more vaccine today, in reserve, than has been ordered by states to be administered, and we want to clear that out,” Vice President Mike Pence told governors on the same call, of which ABC News acquired audio.
But when a significant boost of doses didn’t materialize, the result was predictable — hospitals stopped taking new appointments and panicked residents wondered why they were eligible for the vaccine if more shots weren’t available.
“Governors were told repeatedly by @HHSgov there was a strategic reserve of vaccines, and this week, the American people were told it’d be released to increase supply of vaccine,” tweeted Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.
“It appears now that no reserve exists. The Trump admin. must answer immediately for this deception,” he added.
Oregon’s Gov. Kate Brown added, “This is a deception on a national scale. Oregon’s seniors, teachers, all of us, were depending on the promise of Oregon’s share of the federal reserve of vaccines being released to us.”
Patrick Allen, Oregon’s health director, said in an interview with ABC News that because of the administration’s announcement state officials planned to expand availability on Jan. 23 to anyone over age 65, as well as essential workers.
Now, they won’t.
“I wish the secretary had not said that and caused us to get a lot of people’s hopes up that we’re now not going to be able to meet,” Allen said of Azar.
Likewise, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said the federal announcement led the state to believe it would get 210,000 more doses next week, but it will now only get 79,000.
“I’m shocked we were lied to and there is no national reserve,” Pollis tweeted.
An official familiar with the logistics of the rollout of the vaccine doses said states should have known that second doses have been going out weekly since Dec. 27. So, when Azar was talking about “the entire supply” he was referring to only 8 million more vaccines.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the administration has shipped out 31 million doses and 12 million doses have been administered. The vast majority of those shots are first doses.
“It’s not like there’s a big warehouse where all of the second doses have been stored up,” said the official.
Another administration official, who also agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, said the states still haven’t exhausted the supply available to order — with some 9 million still in the system as of Friday.
But New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo suggested the damage was done when federal officials called on the states to expand eligibility beyond nursing homes and health care workers. Administration officials said their goal was to let states know they can give the doses to more groups to hasten the rollout and so nothing is wasted.
“What they did was like opening the floodgates of eligibility, and you have a rush of 7 million people: ‘I want the vaccine. I want it now. I was told I’m eligible,'” Cuomo said.
“And that entire flood has to go through a syringe. All this volume, and it has to go through the point of a needle, literally and figuratively,” he said.
ABC News’ Cheyenne Haslett, Brian Hartman, Michelle Stoddart and Stephanie Ebbs contributed to this report.