WASHINGTON - The United States does not have a reserve stockpile of COVID-19 vaccines, but it is confident that there will be enough produced to provide a second dose for people, US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told NBC News on Friday.
After the interview with NBC News, CNN reported that Azar had resigned from his position, citing last week's attack on the Capitol as the main reason.
Azar told President Donald Trump in a letter this week that the attack on the Capitol could tarnish the legacy of the administration.
Here is Azar’s full resignation letter. It says he is leaving Jan. 20. It does cite the recent violence. pic.twitter.com/UbSCjAYq7N— Stephanie Armour (@StephArmour1) January 16, 2021
In the letter, Azar cited what he called the administration's successes, including the rapid development of coronavirus vaccines and therapeutics, which he said saved "hundreds of thousands or even millions of American lives."
But, Azar, who will remain on the job until President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration on January 20, voiced concern that last week's mob siege of the Capitol building and Trump's unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud "threaten to tarnish these and other historic legacies of this administration."
"The attacks on the Capitol were an assault on our democracy and on the tradition of peaceful transitions of power," Azar wrote in his formal resignation letter."We now have enough confidence that our ongoing production will be quality and available to provide the second dose for people. So we're not sitting on a reserve anymore. We've made that available to the states to order," Azar said. Up until that point, the Trump administration had communicated to states that there was a reserve stockpile of second doses of the vaccines.
The governors of several states accused the Trump administration of deception after the administration pledged to immediately distribute millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses from a stockpile that the US health secretary has since acknowledged does not exist.
Confusion over a vaccine supply windfall that was promised to governors but failed to materialize arose as scattered shortages emerged on the frontlines of the most ambitious and complex immunization campaign in US history, prompting at least one large New York healthcare system to cancel a slew of inoculation appointments.
Just 10.6 million Americans have received a shot since federal regulators last month granted emergency approval to two vaccines, one from Pfizer Inc and BioNTech and a second from Moderna Inc, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported.
That tally falls far short of the 20 million vaccinations the Trump administration had promised to administer by the end of 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic raged virtually unchecked with ever-increasing record numbers of infections, hospitalizations and deaths.
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines each require an initial dose and a booster shot given about three weeks later.
Azar had said on Tuesday that the administration would release millions of doses it had been holding in reserve for booster shots in order to help spur a sluggish rollout of first doses to those most in need of the vaccine.
Azar said then that the administration was confident enough in the supply chain to release its stockpile, and urged states to use the additional supply to open inoculations to everyone aged 65 and over.
'DECEPTION ON A NATIONAL SCALE'
Many states obliged, but on Friday a number of governors said they were dismayed to learn that no stockpile existed.
"Last night I received disturbing news, confirmed to me directly by General (Gustave) Perna of Operation Warp Speed: States will not be receiving increased shipments of vaccines from the national stockpile next week, because there is no federal reserve of doses," Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said on Twitter.
"This is a deception on a national scale," Brown added, demanding an explanation from the outgoing administration.
The Washington Post reported on Friday that the federal government ran down its vaccine reserve in late December and has no remaining reserves of doses on hand.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom, appearing at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles for the opening of a mass-inoculation site, said Azar and Vice President Mike Pence had committed on a conference call this week with governors to releasing a vaccine reserve that Newsom said had included some 50 million doses stored in Michigan.
"And then we read, as everybody else, that they have reneged on that, or for whatever reason are unable to deliver on that," Newsom said.
Brown and Newsom's comments were echoed by at least eight other governors, most of them fellow Democrats, including Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, who called the situation a "slap in the face." Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said he was "extremely disappointed" that Azar had "lied to" his state.
Azar suggested in an interview with NBC News on Friday that the doses in question had already been allocated to the states.
"We now have enough confidence that our ongoing production will be quality and available to provide the second dose for people," the HHS secretary said. "So we're not sitting on a reserve anymore. We've made that available to the states to order."
Pfizer said it has been holding on to second doses at the request of the federal government and anticipated no problems supplying them to Americans.
"Operation Warp Speed has asked us to start shipping second doses only recently. As a result, we have on hand all the second doses of the previous shipments to the US," a company spokeswoman said in a statement.
RACE AGAINST CONTAGION
The latest stumble in the vaccine campaign came as the number of known US infections of the virus that causes COVID-19 surpassed 23 million, more than 388,000 of which have proven to be fatal, according to a Reuters tally.
Adding to anxieties over the pace of immunizations, the CDC warned on Friday that a new, highly transmissible variant of the virus sweeping Britain could become the dominant form in the United States by March.
In New York City, the country's most populous city, Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city has vaccinated about 300,000 of its more than eight million residents, but was on course to run dry next week because it was burning through vaccines faster than they were being replenished.
At least one New York City healthcare system, Mount Sinai Hospital, canceled vaccination appointments, and another, NYU Langone Health, suspended new ones amid shortages, officials said.
In Los Angeles, Governor Newsom joined Mayor Eric Garcetti and other officials in launching a mass inoculation site at Dodger Stadium, an operation they said would be the largest in the nation, administering 12,000 shots a day by next week.
The baseball arena, which had been devoted to drive-through diagnostic testing for months, is one of several vaccine "super stations" opening across California, home to 40 million people and a US epicenter of the pandemic in recent weeks.
President-elect Joe Biden, who takes office on Wednesday, said on Friday he would order increased production of syringes and other supplies to accelerate a vaccine rollout that he has called a "dismal failure."
He has set the goal of immunizing 100 million Americans, about a third of the population, within the first 100 days of his administration.