Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that vaccine rollout has been disappointingly slow and called for more resources for states and counties to speed up the process.
Trump administration officials had said they projected 20 million people would get vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of the year. According to the CDC, more than 12.4 million doses of Pfizer and Moderna’s two-dose vaccines have been distributed in the United States as of Dec. 30, but just 2.8 million doses have been administered.
Fauci said in an interview Thursday on NBC’s “TODAY” program that, “we would’ve liked to have seen it run smoothly and have 20 million doses into people today, by the end of the [year] 2020, which was the projection. Obviously, it didn’t happen and that’s disappointing.”
“Hopefully, as you get into the first couple of weeks in January, the gaining of momentum will get us to the point where we want to be,” he said, and called for more resources to boost local efforts to administer the vaccine.
Fauci was asked if, in light of funding constraints at the state and county level, the federal government should take over vaccine administration efforts.
“Rather than stepping in and taking over, it would maybe be better to give more resources and work with them, in tandem with them,” he said. “In other words, not saying, ‘we’re taking over, we’re going to do your job,’ but saying ‘we’re really going to help you do your job particularly by giving you many more resources.’”
Fauci’s remarks come after President Donald Trump on Wednesday urged states to ramp up vaccine administration.
“The Federal Government has distributed the vaccines to the states. Now it is up to the states to administer. Get moving!” Trump said in a tweet.
In counties across the United States, the funding crisis has limited the hiring of needed vaccine staff, delayed the creation of vaccination centers, and undermined efforts to raise public awareness, officials told Reuters.
The federal government spent more than $10 billion to speed COVID-19 vaccine development but has so far disbursed little funding for distribution.
A new $2.3 trillion pandemic aid and spending package provides $8.75 billion to states to assist in vaccinations, in line with what state and local officials had requested, but months after distribution work should have begun.
Seattle public health officials have so little COVID-19 funding on hand they worry they will have to shut down some virus testing sites as they mount a campaign to dose their 2.3 million residents with vaccines.
King County, which represents greater Seattle, has $14 million of COVID-19 funding for 2021, roughly enough to fund its operations for a single month, and a fraction of the $87 million emergency COVID-19 aid it received in 2020, said Ingrid Ulrey, the public health policy director for King County.
“We’ve been on pins and needles the whole last three or four months, watching what’s happening at the federal level, waiting, watching,” she said. When newly approved federal funds finally trickle down to her level, she expects them to be less than this year, insufficient, and too late.
“It’s shockingly low,” she added. “We have a huge new, unprecedented, daunting task of vaccine delivery.” King County is at risk of being unable to hire the up to 40 additional staff needed to begin the next wave of public vaccinations.
Nearly 10 million of the 12.4 million doses the government has distributed to states sit unused.
Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott said Tuesday that a “significant portion” of COVID-19 vaccines might still be sitting on hospital shelves rather than being administered to vulnerable Texans, adding that the decision to get inoculated is “always voluntary.”
Abbott made the remarks in a tweet, in which he also said that stockpiles of the vaccine are being replenished regularly, noting, “we get plenty more each week.”
It comes after the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) said there “may be unnecessary delays” in giving all shots and in reporting administered doses to the state’s immunization registry.
DSHS Commissioner John Hellerstedt, in a letter urged “all entities that have been allotted vaccine to administer their entire allotment with all deliberate speed.”
“We also know that every day a vaccine sits on the shelf is another day that prolongs the pandemic that is hindering our state’s economy and way of life,” Hellerstedt wrote in the letter, in which he also urged health providers to give the vaccine to all available and willing recipients, regardless of their priority designation, once all readily available and willing recipients in the top priority groups have been served.
Reuters contributed to this report.