Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker told reporters Friday that the state needs more clarity from the federal government on COVID-19 vaccine shipments, amid troubling new reports about the national supply.
Baker, speaking to reporters following a bill signing ceremony at the State House, was asked about a Washington Post report that said while federal officials announced earlier this week that they’d begin releasing vaccine doses held in reserve for second shots, no such reserve actually existed.
Baker said the state had been hoping for an increased allocation of shots, but not planning for them.
“No one at the federal level ever said to me to expect more, okay? I mean, the message we got was: You won’t get less. And we’ve all hoped that we would, in fact, get more” as vaccine production ramped up, he said.
“But it sounds like, at least for the moment, the planning we’ve been doing, which is to assume we won’t get less is probably about where we should be, at least until the new administration takes office and gets a sense about what that pipeline looks like,” he said. Democrat Joe Biden is set to be inaugurated next week.
Baker said the state has been hampered by a lack of information from the federal government on upcoming vaccine shipments.
“There’s not a lot of visibility into how far ahead you can look with respect to what you can expect to get [in terms of doses] from the vaccine program,” Baker said. “And that means we’re sort of working on a one-week window into what happens next.”
He said state officials get told on Tuesdays “what we’re going to get” for a shipment the following week.
Baker said supply chain issues have been raised with the incoming administration.
“One of the things that I and others have expressed to the incoming administration is they really need to find a way to create more clarity and visibility for us around what exactly is coming in the pipeline going forward, so that we can create capacity to actually execute on delivering shots in the arms, based on some assumption about how much vaccine is going to be available,” Baker said.
The Post reported that when US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced this week that the federal government would begin releasing doses held in reserve for second shots, no such reserve existed.
Hopes were dashed for health officials across the country who had anticipated larger shipments of vaccines, the Post reported.
Scientists and public health experts reacted with dismay Friday at the report in the Post.
“If this story is right, this is awful. It sets us months behind where I thought we were,” Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, said in a tweet. “And it says that there has been systematic deception by this White House about how much vaccine we have. We have to figure this out immediately.”
“I don’t know about you but I am exhausted with the continuing fumbling of the #COVID19 response by the Federal Government,” Dr. Carlos del Rio, an infectious disease expert at Emory University in Atlanta, said in a tweet.
Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, told KCBS Radio, “I think it just is more evidence of kind of mismanagement of this last mile that Operation Warp Speed kind of defaulted on. Operation Warp Speed was great at getting vaccines made and developed and ready to go in a very rapid time period, but there wasn’t a lot of … thought about how we actually turn these vaccines into vaccinations.”
“It’s really mind-boggling to me, and I do think there really needs to be review of how these types of errors and mistakes keep happening. Because we’re in a race with this with this virus and the quicker we can get the vaccine into people’s arms, the quicker this is over,” he told the radio station.
Baker also insisted Friday that the state’s not sitting on any excess supply.
“We are not holding on to any vaccine,” he said. “We have 660,000 people in phase one. We’ve only received roughly 400,000 vaccine shots to begin with. Those 660,000 all need to get vaccinated twice. They need to get dosed twice to be vaccinated. You do the math, that’s 1.3 million [doses] ... to actually fully vaccinate Phase 1, which is supposed to end sometime in early February.”
Baker said he believes better days are ahead.
“I think, going forward, the combination of pharmacies, health care providers, community health center, and mass vaccination sites - of which we believe we’ll have four or five up around the Commonwealth by the end of this month - starts to look like the type of infrastructure that we’ll need to start doing thousands and thousands and thousands of these every day,” he said. “But again, we need to know that the vaccine is actually going to be coming in volumes that are great enough to actually make sure that we can take advantage of that.”