Peter Wells in New York
Severe winter weather across large parts of the US has resulted in a backlog of about 6m coronavirus vaccine doses as distribution chains ground to a halt and more than 2,000 vaccination sites were left without power.
All 50 US states have been adversely affected, the White House’s senior advisor on the coronavirus response, Andy Slavitt, said at a press briefing on Friday morning.
“The 6m doses represents about three days of delayed shipments and many states have been able to cover some of this delay with existing inventory,” he said.
Slavitt said the historic winter storms have hit the vaccine supply chain in three ways: shipping companies like FedEx, UPS and McKesson face challenges with workers snowed in and unable to get to work, road closures are holding up shipments at vaccine manufacturing sites and distribution hubs, and more than 2,000 vaccination sites located in areas without power and therefore unable to administer doses.
Texas had been hit particularly hard by winter storms in recent days. Decisions by natural gas producers to curb output and equipment at power stations freezing resulted in more than 4m households in the second-most populous US state being left without power at one point on Tuesday.
In recent days, authorities in Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, New York, North Carolina, Oregon South Carolina, Virginia were among states variously forced to close testing and vaccination sites due to the weather or warning of delays to vaccine shipments.
“Because of the 72 hour cold-chain constraints, we don’t want to ship doses to those locations and have them sitting at a site where they might expire, so the vaccines are sitting safe and sound in our factories and hubs, ready to be distributed as soon as weather allows,” Slavitt said.
The White House anticipates that the backlog of doses will be delivered “within the next week”, Slavitt said, adding that 1.4m doses were already in transit on Friday.
“We expect we will be able to manage both this backlog and the new production coming on line next week,” he said, and that while the seven-day average of doses administered will probably decline due to these weather disruptions, “we will make up for it in the coming week.”