The slow start to the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in the United States has been no secret: Seniors have waited in long lines for a dose, vaccine registration websites have crashed and public health resources were tied up during the country’s biggest surge yet in early January.
But health officials say that while current vaccine supply levels still limit how many vaccines they can administer, states are becoming more efficient at immunizing people as shipments arrive.
On Jan. 1, just a quarter of vaccine doses delivered across the country had been used, compared to 68% of doses on Feb. 11. A handful of states have administered more than 80% of the doses they have received. And even states with slower vaccine uptake are making strides. Alabama, for example, where the share of doses used has consistently ranked among the country’s lowest, is in the process of opening new mass vaccination sites in eight cities.
“Every state is improving,” said Claire Hannan, executive director of the Association of Immunization Managers. “We still don’t have enough to vaccinate everyone over 75, so it doesn’t necessarily feel different for people who are trying to find the vaccine, but we are in a much better place now.”
Health officials acknowledge that it’s confusing to suggest that overall supply is limited, when federal data shows that many shots still seem to be sitting unused. But jurisdictions have said that they are working around the clock to close the gap between doses delivered and administered.
For example, a federal program to vaccinate long-term care facility residents and staff has seen delays and lower-than-expected demand — leaving thousands of doses earmarked for the program unused. Some state health officials have said that they are putting those doses back into the general supply.
Experts also caution that the multistep process of performing and recording vaccinations means 100% administration is an unlikely bench mark. There will always be some vaccines that haven’t been unpacked yet and others that have already been administered but not yet reported to the state and federal data systems.
It is also standard to keep some vaccine doses in inventory, especially as jurisdictions work to equip mass vaccination sites, which are ramping up across the country and are expected to further speed up the number of people getting shots.
New York Times
S. Carolina Senate OK’s moving teachers up
COLUMBIA, S.C. — The South Carolina state Senate has passed a proposal to open vaccinations to tens of thousands of teachers.
The state Senate unanimously voted this week to allow teachers, regardless of age, to begin scheduling vaccinations. The measure also requires districts to offer in-person classes five days a week after spring break — even if teachers aren’t fully vaccinated. Gov. Henry McMaster wants in-person classes to resume but favors prioritizing vaccines for those 65 and older. The House also must approve the measure before it goes to the governor’s desk.
It took weeks for Elizabeth Cline to schedule COVID-19 vaccination appointments for her 70-year-old parents, eventually getting slots through a hospital system near her home in Greenville, South Carolina. Now they’re awaiting second doses.
“I wish more thought had been put into that at the beginning, and it didn’t come down to teachers begging to be heard,” Cline told The Associated Press. “I think teachers deserve more prioritization than they’re getting.”
South Carolina has registered more than 7,000 confirmed deaths since the start of the pandemic.
Meatpacking union says more vaccines needed
OMAHA, Neb. — Hundreds of meatpacking workers have been vaccinated against the coronavirus.
However, the union that represents many of them says several hundred thousand more have not, despite the risks they continue to face.
The United Food and Commercial Workers International union is lobbying for workers to be moved up vaccination priority lists, and major meat companies have launched campaigns to educate employees and dispel rumors about the vaccines.
But in most states, meatpacking workers are still waiting for their turn to be vaccinated and are ranked behind health care workers, residents of long-term care centers and people age 65 and older.
Last spring, over 1,000 Smithfield workers in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, were sickened and four died. Other meatpacking plants also dealt with major outbreaks. In April, the industry’s meat production fell to about 60% of normal levels.
Iran gets more Russian vaccine
TEHRAN, Iran — Iran has received a second batch of Russian-made Sputnik V vaccines from Moscow, enough to inoculate 100,000 people, state television reported.
Earlier this month, Iran received 20,000 doses of the Russian vaccine in its first batch as the country struggles to fight the worst outbreak of the pandemic in the Middle East.
Reports have said Iran has purchased a total of 2 million doses of the vaccine. Iran has a population of more than 83 million.
Iran in December began human trials for a first vaccine manufactured in Iran, which is expected to be distributed in the spring. The country is also working on a joint vaccine with Cuba.
Iran plans also to import some 17 million doses of vaccine from the international COVAX program and millions more from individual countries.
Health Ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari put Iran’s death toll from the coronavirus at 58,883 after 74 more died since Friday. Lari says 7,120 new confirmed cases have brought the total to more than 1.5 million.
AstraZeneca shot to be tested on children
LONDON — The University of Oxford plans to test its AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in children for the first time, becoming the latest vaccine developer to assess whether its coronavirus shot is effective in young people.
The trial announced Saturday seeks to recruit 300 volunteers between the ages of 6 and 17, with up to 240 receiving the COVID-19 vaccine and the remainder a control meningitis vaccine.
Andrew Pollard, chief researcher on the Oxford vaccine trial, says while most children don’t get severely ill from COVID-19, “it is important to establish the safety and immune response to the vaccine in children and young people as some children may benefit from vaccination.’'
Regulators in more than 50 countries have authorized widespread use of the Oxford vaccine, which is being produced and distributed by AstraZeneca, for use in people over age 18.
Other drug companies are also testing the COVID-19 vaccines in children. Pfizer, whose vaccine has already been authorized for use in people 16 and older, began testing its shot in children as young as 12 in October. Moderna in December began testing its vaccine on children as young as 12.
Pollard says the Oxford trial should help policymakers decide whether at some point they want to extend mass vaccination programs to children as they seek to ensure schools are safe and combat the spread of the virus in the wider population.
“For most children, for themselves, COVID is really not a big problem,’' Pollard told The Associated Press. “However, it is certainly possible that wider use to try and curb the progress of the pandemic might be considered in the future, so here we’re just trying to establish the data that would support that if indeed policymakers wanted to go in that direction.”