White House to begin shipping COVID-19 vaccines to drug outlets

Tracking vaccine shipment with smartphone
Tracking vaccine shipment with smartphone

Delta News Hub / Flickr cc

Today, President Joe Biden's coronavirus czar, Jeff Zients, announced the administration would send 1 million doses of mRNA vaccines to more than 6,500 pharmacies across the country next week in an effort to further expand vaccination in the United States.

The 1 million doses represent a weekly shipment expected to ramp up quickly, Zients said during a press conference. The announcement builds on a federal partnership with commercial pharmacies first created under former president Donald Trump. Eventually, Zients said, 40,000 retail pharmacies, including Walgreens, CVS, and Rite Aid locations, will receive millions of vaccine doses to distribute

"Sites are selected based on their ability to reach some of the populations most at risk for severe illness from COVID-19, including socially vulnerable communities," said Zients, who said efforts were being made to reach communities of color.

Shipments to states increasing, too

In addition to sending vaccine to pharmacies, Zients said the administration will increase the number of vaccine doses sent to states beginning next week from 10 million to 10.5 million.

The initial 1 million doses sent to pharmacies will be on top of the 10.5 million sent across the country, Zients said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID Data Tracker shows that 52,657,675 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been distributed in the United States, and 32,780,860 have been administered.

In general, the pandemic seems to be slowing down in the United States after a post-holiday surge led to the deadliest month on record. According to the Associated Press, new cases are trending downward in all 50 states, and the nation is averaging about 148,000 new cases each day. Deaths are averaging around 3,150 per day, down from a peak average of 3,350 per day in mid-January.

In total, the United States has had 26,384,829 confirmed COVID-19 cases, including 445,419 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Moderna suggests adding doses to vials

Both Pfizer and Moderna, the only two companies with approved COVID-19 vaccines in the United States, need to increase production in order to meet their Operation Warp Speed goals of 100 million doses each by the end of next month.

But National Public Radio points out that at the current pace, neither company could reach that goal: If Moderna continued to release 5.8 million doses per week (as it has been), it will only have released 85 million doses by the end of March. And if Pfizer continues to release 4.4 million doses a week, it will only have released 72 million doses by the end of March.

In order to meet the goal, Moderna executives yesterday proposed filling vials with 15 doses of vaccine, up from the current 10, as a way to increase output without causing a crunch in manufacturing. Such a change would need to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Schools, testing, and pandemic stress

In other US COVID-19 developments:

  • Chicago public schools remain closed through at least Thursday. The teachers union in that city has been threatening a strike if in-person classes resume before teachers are vaccinated or the city has reached a 3% positivity rate.

  • New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said laboratories in his state would begin working on sequencing more COVID-19 samples to detect variants.

  • The American Psychological Association said American adults reported the highest stress levels in January since last April, when most states began stay-at-home orders due to the pandemic. According to results from the Harris Poll, Americans reported a stress level of 5.6 (on a scale from 1 to 10, in which 1 means "little to no stress" and 10 means "a great deal of stress") last month.

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