The US government needs to be doing a better job with the Covid-19 vaccine rollout, Assistant Secretary for Health Adm. Brett Giroir said Wednesday, as the Trump administration’s advertised vaccination deadline looms.
“Of course, we need to be doing a better job, but all vaccine programs start somewhat slow,” Giroir told CNN’s Jake Tapper, adding that he expects distribution to ramp up soon and that the US is on track to distribute 20 million vaccine doses by the first week of January.
“I know we will be distributing about 30 million more in January and potentially up to 50 million more in February,” he said.
Giroir’s comments come as the latest data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that the government is unlikely to reach its professed vaccination goal in time.
The federal government’s Operation Warp Speed had promised that 20 million doses would be administered before January 1, with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar saying on CNN’s “New Day” on December 9 that “20 million people should get vaccinated in just the next several weeks.”
However, the numbers aren’t anywhere near that yet. More than 2.6 million people have received their first dose, according to Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the CDC, at a news briefing Wednesday, and just over 14 million doses have been distributed, according to Operation Warp Speed Chief Operating Officer Gustave Perna, also at a Wednesday briefing.
President Donald Trump has largely passed the buck to the states on vaccine distribution, blaming them on Wednesday for the slower than ideal pace.
“The Federal Government has distributed the vaccines to the states,” Trump tweeted. “Now it is up to the states to administer. Get moving!”
Giroir said Wednesday that as pharmacies begin to play a larger role in vaccine administration, he expects the pace of vaccinations to quicken.
“We have a federal contract with 40,000 pharmacies – that’s 60% of all pharmacies in the US – to provide vaccines,” said Giroir. “The scale will go up very rapidly as things progress and evolve.”
“Vaccines on the shelf are no good,” he added. “They need to get in people’s arms and we are leaving no stone unturned to do that.”
In remarks Tuesday on the Covid-19 crisis, President-elect Joe Biden said that the Trump administration’s plan to distribute Covid-19 vaccines across the country has fallen “far behind,” warning that if the vaccination program continues at the current pace “it’s going to take years, not months, to vaccinate the American people.”
The President-elect has laid out a plan to distribute 100 million vaccine shots, which is enough to cover 50 million people, in his initial 100 days in office. He reiterated on Tuesday that Congress would need to provide the necessary funding in order to reach that goal.
CNN’s Naomi Thomas, Kristen Holmes, Arlette Saenz, Betsy Klein and Kate Sullivan contributed to this report.