The vaccination of Americans against the coronavirus is off to a halting start.
Earlier in December, the outgoing administration of President Donald Trump predicted that 20 million people would be inoculated by year’s end.
But as of Wednesday, just 12.4 million doses had been distributed nationally, according to the country’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The agency said 2.6 million people had gotten shots in their arms, although there may be a lag in reporting.
Trump has said little about the issue in recent weeks, focusing mainly on unsupported claims that he was defrauded of a second term in the White House. But he did address the slow pace of vaccinations on Twitter, saying, “The Federal Government has distributed the vaccines to the states. Now it is up to the states to administer. Get moving!”
Numerous problems have emerged, including a shortage of funding for administering the shots and publicizing their availability in some communities. Each state is deciding on its own who should get vaccinated first, although health care workers and elderly people living in nursing homes have been at the head of the line in most places.
Health officials in the Midwestern state of Wisconsin expressed their shock at one worker’s actions at a hospital outside the state’s biggest city, Milwaukee. An unnamed pharmacist, officials said, admitted deliberately spoiling more than 500 doses of coronavirus vaccine by removing them from a pharmacy refrigerator. He was arrested Thursday.
Hospital workers administered the spoiled doses before realizing the pharmacist had tampered with them. Officials say the 57 people who received the ruined vaccines have been notified. It was not immediately clear, however, what steps the Grafton, Wisconsin, hospital will take to remedy the situation for the people who received the tainted vaccines.
Hospital officials say they have consulted with Moderna, the vaccine manufacturer, and have been assured the people who received the corrupted vaccines will not be harmed by the useless vaccines.
Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters the pace of inoculations would pick up next week, but she acknowledged Wednesday, “We’ve always expected and prepared for bumps in the road.”
“We need to remember that these are new vaccines on new platforms with slightly complex requirements for storage, handling and administration,” she said.
Health officials in the Western state of California say a patient there has been infected with a coronavirus variant that was first detected in Britain, and that it is likely more cases will be identified in the United States.
California is the second state to identify the COVID-19 variant strain, following two cases in Colorado this week.
As was true with the Colorado cases, the California Department of Public Health said the person infected there had no recent travel history.
California Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly called the development “concerning” and stressed the importance of known methods of preventing coronavirus spread, such as wearing masks, social distancing, staying home and avoiding travel.
"It appears that this particular mutation does make the virus better at transmitting from one person to another," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease specialist and the chief medical adviser to incoming President-elect Joe Biden.
During an online discussion Wednesday with California Governor Gavin Newsom, Fauci said virus mutations are normal, and that he was “not surprised” that additional cases of the COVID-19 variant would be found in the country.
He also said the variant is not believed to cause more severe illness than earlier forms, and that vaccines already being deployed should be just as effective against it.
The United States has begun vaccinations of frontline health care workers and high-risk populations such as those living in nursing homes using two vaccines given emergency use authorization.
The vaccines will then be made available to other segments of the U.S. population in the coming weeks, with front-line workers and people 75 and older next.
Fauci said if the vaccination program progresses as it should through May, June and July, then by early fall there will be “enough good herd immunity to be able to really get back to some strong semblance of normality - schools, theaters, sports events, restaurants.”
The United States has recorded 345,000 COVID-19 deaths and nearly 20 million infections, with both figures more than in any other country, according to Johns Hopkins University.