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US Army General Gustave F. Perna, chief operations officer for Operation Warp Speed, told reporters in a briefing Saturday morning that the nation is on track to finish distributing 20 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine by the first week in January.
The promise comes amid reports from states in the past week that they were receiving far fewer doses of the Pfizer vaccine, approved for distribution under an emergency use authorization (EUA) on December 11, than they had been told they would receive.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted an EUA for Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine Friday evening, making it the second vaccine authorized for use in the United States.
In today’s briefing, Perna took sole responsibility for miscalculating how many doses were “releasable” from the total that were allocated.
“There is a standardized cadence of approval when they go from completion of fill-finish to releasable,” Perna said. “Where I failed — I failed — nobody else failed, is to have a clear understanding of that cadence.
“I am the one that approved the forecast sheets. I am the one that approved the allocations. There is no problem with the process. There is no problem with the Pfizer vaccine. There is no problem with the Moderna vaccine. It was a planning error and I am responsible.”
He declined to elaborate further and cut off questions on the topic when several reporters asked what steps are necessary to make vaccine doses “releasable.”
He asked governors to accept his apology.
“This is a Herculean effort and we are not perfect,” he said. “The key is to be transparent.”
Perna said distribution of the Moderna vaccine has already begun and has moved to McKesson, the central distributor.
There, boxes are being packed and loaded onto trucks today, he said, and UPS and FedEx trucks will begin rolling out Sunday. Vaccinations are expected to begin Monday at more than 3700 locations and will continue throughout the week.
“We have absolute confidence that these three great companies will deliver vaccines to the American people in a safe and timely manner,” Perna said.
He added, “Every week we will work with the states to ensure the vaccines are distributed to the locations that they direct us to.”
The Moderna vaccine can be shipped and stored at standard freezer temperatures, unlike the Pfizer vaccine, which requires much colder temperatures.
“This allows jurisdictions the flexibility to support hard-to-reach, small, and more rural areas,” Perna said.
He noted that more than 50,000 providers are part of the effort to give the vaccine in hospitals, doctors’ offices, pharmacies, and pharmacy chains.
“We think that the quantity and the distribution of the vaccine will provide everybody in America access to the vaccine when the vaccine is available,” he said.
He also noted that part of the process of releasing and distributing the vaccines is to ensure that second doses will be available and distributed when needed.
Despite the glitches of the past week, Perna said in his opening remarks to reporters, “Today is another landmark day for our nation. It has been just 10 months since we’ve been on the defense against this virus.”
“Through snowstorms, holiday rush, and with everything else going on in the country, we delivered the first 2.9 million doses across the country to every state and we saw vaccines going into arms.”
Marcia Frellick is a freelance journalist based in Chicago. She has previously written for the Chicago Tribune, Science News, and Nurse.com and was an editor at the Chicago Sun-Times, the Cincinnati Enquirer, and the St. Cloud (Minnesota) Times. Follow her on Twitter at @mfrellick