Hopes of a surge in Covid-19 vaccine shipments under a new policy to release second doses held in reserve appear to be evaporating — with the revelation that those doses have already been distributed.
A senior Trump administration official told CNN Friday that when the administration announced that it would be releasing reserved doses last week, many of those reserves had already been released into the system starting last year as production was ramping up.
The revelation seems to contradict what US Health and Human Services secretary announced on Jan. 12 at an Operation Warp Speed briefing, where he said the administration would be “releasing the entire supply for order by states, rather than holding second doses in reserve.”
The official who spoke with CNN pushed back on a report that the second-dose supply was "exhausted," instead characterizing the reserve as a rolling and replenished supply with new production.
The source emphasized that the supply would still benefit from those extra doses already in circulation — but acknowledged that this means there will not be a sudden surge in distribution numbers, as many had been led to believe.
Michael J. Pratt, the chief communications officer for Operation Warp Speed, also denied the notion the reserve was “exhausted” in a statement to CNN.
“This week, nearly 13 million total doses have been provided to states to order, millions more than other weeks, as the reserve of second doses is completely made available to order against, Pratt said. “States have yet to fully order against their ordering caps. As stated this week, we have now moved to the phase where the full amount released to OWS is being made available to order, first to cover second doses, second to provide additional first doses.”
The news shocked and angered officials in at least one state.
“I am demanding answers from the Trump Administration. I am shocked and appalled that they have set an expectation on which they could not deliver, with such grave consequences,” Oregon Gov. Kate Brown tweeted Friday. “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.”
Oregon's health director wrote a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar Thursday, demanding he reconcile his statement last week about "releasing the entire supply" with this revelation.
CNN obtained a letter written by Oregon Health Director Patrick Allen, in which he recounted a call with Brown and Operation Warp Speed Chief Operating Officer Gen. Gustave Perna on Thursday.
"During that call, he informed us there is no reserve of doses, and we are already receiving the full allocation of vaccines," Allen wrote. "If true, this is extremely disturbing, and puts our plans to expand eligibility at grave risk. Those plans were made on the basis of reliance on your statement about ‘releasing the entire supply’ you have in reserve. If this information is accurate, we will be unable to begin vaccinating our vulnerable seniors on January 23rd, as planned."
CNN also contacted vaccine manufacturers Pfizer and Moderna, as well as Moderna’s distribution partner McKesson and did not get a response.
The revelation that second doses weren't strictly held in reserve was first reported by The Washington Post, which also reported that the Trump administration shifted its strategy to begin tapping into second doses late last year.
“We are hearing there is not a stockpile of vaccine for second dose but that it was more of a ‘paper exercise,’” said Dr. Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer for the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. “The stockpile appears to be all on paper, they were tracking anticipated need but not actually holding back product.”
The bottom line, Plescia said, is vaccine will remain scare for at least a few more weeks.
“I think the original message got lost in a lot of overpromising,” Plescia said. “Until there is a more robust supply we need to be clear with the public that opportunity to get the vaccine is limited.”
CNN’s Jacqueline Howard, Nadia Kounang and John Bonifield contributed to this report.