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Extreme winter weather is dealing the first major setback to the Joe Biden administration’s planned swift rollout of coronavirus vaccines just as the national vaccination campaign was hitting its stride.
The White House said that about 6m vaccines had been temporarily delayed due to the extreme frigid weather that has played havoc across the country and especially in Texas, where large parts of the state were hit hard by a once-in-a-generation cold snap.
Biden has placed swift and efficient delivery of the vaccines at the forefront of his efforts to combat the coronavirus, in stark contrast to the missteps, delays and undermining of science that marked the pandemic response of the previous administration of Donald Trump.
But the disruptions caused by frigid temperatures, snow and ice left the White House scrambling to work with states to make up lost ground even as Biden was set to visit a Pfizer vaccine manufacturing plant near Kalamazoo, Michigan. The president’s trip itself had been pushed back a day to Friday due to wintry weather in the nation’s capital.
Biden was set to meet with workers at the plant who are producing one of the two federally approved Covid-19 shots. According to the CDC, the two-dose Pfizer vaccine has been administered about 30m times since it received emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration on 11 December.
From Texas to New England, bad weather has forced many injection sites to close and held up shipments of needed doses.
The US had administered an average of 1.7m doses a day in the week that ended on Tuesday, evidence that the pace of the vaccination program was picking up. The magnitude of the weather’s impact was not immediately clear because of reporting lags in vaccination data maintained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention but it was expected to be significant.
The White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said the White House was closely monitoring the weather’s impact on vaccine deliveries and working with manufacturers, shipping companies and states to speed their distribution.
Delays and vaccination site closures have essentially robbed Texas of an entire week of vaccinations. “Everything was put on ice – literally – this week,” said Chris Van Deusen, director of media relations at the Texas department of state health services.
Shipping hubs affected by the winter weather generally did not risk transporting most of the precious vaccine doses for jabs in Texas amid the storm. Exceptions included 125,000 Moderna vaccines that arrived at hub providers last Friday and a handful of Pfizer doses that were supposed to make it by Wednesday, though some sites had not received them on time, Van Deusen said.
But “even if it takes a day or two to get them delivered as conditions improve, it’s not gonna put the vaccine in jeopardy”, he added.
Other than a storage facility in Houston’s Harris county, where power went out, a backup generator failed, and thousands of doses were quickly redistributed to a university, the county jail and local hospitals, Van Deusen had not heard of too many desperate scrambles to reallocate shots before they expire.
About 10.6% of Texans have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine and 4.3% have received both doses, according to the New York Times, lagging behind the nation at large.
Since the start of the pandemic, more than 2.2m confirmed Covid-19 infections and roughly 340,000 probable cases have ravaged the state, killing almost 41,000 residents so far.
The delays were so severe in Massachusetts that the state’s governor, Charlie Baker, on Thursday suggested he would explore sending his state’s national guard to collect doses from icebound shipping hubs in Memphis, Tennessee, and Louisville, Kentucky.
The Virginia department of health reported on Thursday that it was expecting delays on about 90% of its expected 120,000 doses this week and warned that the delays could cascade into next week.
In North Carolina, none of the more than 163,000 first and second doses of the Moderna vaccine scheduled to arrive this week have been delivered by Biden’s administration, the state health department said.
The state also noted that only a limited number of the nearly 127,000 expected Pfizer vaccines had been shipped.
Oklahoma moved to reschedule vaccine clinics to this weekend, when it expects its 110,000 doses to be delivered, aiming to make up appointments from this week.
The ripple effects extended far beyond areas experiencing winter weather. In Arizona, the bulk of the state’s anticipated shipment of Moderna doses was delayed until early next week, forcing the postponement of some vaccination appointments.
Psaki said the White House was working with shippers to speed deliveries of the vaccines once conditions improved and was encouraging states to extend hours for vaccination clinics once they reopen and to swiftly rebook postponed appointments.
Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines must remain frozen during shipping, with the Pfizer shot requiring super-cold storage temperatures. The White House said it was working with shippers to ensure there was no spoilage of doses during the weather delays.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: About 6m vaccines delayed due to extreme frigid weather across US | Coronavirus