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Public Health on vaccine rollout: ‘anticipate delays, unanticipated challenges, snafus at every stage’

Public heath experts in Washington say the state’s share of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine, scheduled to arrive next week, was cut by 40 percent.

Washington is one of at least 15 states that will receive far fewer doses than expected. The sudden cut comes at a time when COVID-19 deaths are on the rise and hospital beds in King County are at 90% capacity.

Additionally, some hospitals now are dealing with canceled shipments of the Pfizer vaccine.

“I’m not surprised,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin with Public Health Seattle-King County. “I’m disappointed it happened so quickly, that we’re already seeing challenges on allocation.”

Duchin said while vaccine research and development has been a tremendous accomplishment, the plan to roll out the drug has fallen short.

“Getting them into people’s arms has not been adequate,” Duchin said. “We should anticipate delays and unanticipated challenges, snafus at every stage of this process,” he said.

Public health needs more federal resources to bolster its vaccine implementation program so it can effectively vaccinate a large number of people, he explained.

“We’ve been running on fumes,” Duchin said. “We are challenged by the relative small investment that our federal government has made in vaccine implementation planning.”

Overlake Hospital in Bellevue was supposed to start inoculating employees Dec 21, but their shipment has been canceled and the hospital does not know when it will get the vaccine.

Swedish said its pharmacy lead has not received any shipping confirmation yet for delivery next week.

MultiCare’s chief pharmacy officer said in a statement: “We eagerly await word on upcoming distributions to all 17 of our submitted locations.” MultiCare began vaccinating employees at three hospitals Friday, including its Tacoma location.

EvergreenHealth said it has not received any word on changes to expected shipments. UW Medicine and Virginia Mason did not respond to the inquiry in time for this story. The Washington State Department of Health said it would not provide a list of impacted hospitals at this time.

“It is frustrating that the supply may not be there next week,” Duchin said.

The state health department said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control ‘s Operation Warp Speed notified them that the state’s allocation of the Pfizer vaccine will be short by nearly by nearly 30,000 doses. Washington will receive 44,850 doses rather than the expected 74,100.

As of Friday, the state said the CDC had yet to provide an answer on why the cut occurred.

Pfizer’s CEO said there are no production issues and that it successfully shipped the vaccine this week to all locations specified by the federal government.

The company’s CEO said on Twitter Thursday, “We have millions more doses sitting in our warehouse but, as of now, we have not received any shipment instructions for additional doses.”

The good news: With the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorizing Moderna’s vaccine, Washington State is expecting to receive shipments of that drug early next week.

As for who gets the vaccine next, Duchin said it likely will be essential workers. But the state is waiting on a CDC advisory panel to make its final recommendations on how to break down the large pool of essential workers into tiers. The recommendations could be done by Sunday evening.

Essential workers range from teachers and first responders to food industry workers.

“The state will be providing interpretation for Washington and we’ll find out in more detail how that tiering will go,” Duchin said. “The frustrating part for everyone is there’s just not enough vaccine for everybody right up front.”