COVID-19 vaccine supply will remain flat through March, followed by a surge

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State and local officials throughout the country who are anxious for more doses of COVID-19 vaccines were told this week that supply will remain stagnant for most of this month, but should surge in the last days of March through the beginning of April.

A White House official told McClatchy that flat supply over the course of March is due to widely anticipated shortfalls from Johnson & Johnson, one of three authorized vaccine manufacturers. The supply of the one-shot J&J vaccines will increase in roughly two weeks.

Public health officials are able to see their projected vaccine supply up to three weeks in advance through a federal vaccine tracking system called Tiberius, and what they are seeing is a flat line through the end of March.

Biden administration officials also explained the current supply issues in their weekly call with governors.

The administration has increased the supply of vaccines from 900,000 vaccines administered per day to nearly 3 million since Jan. 20 when President Joe Biden took office.

But demand remains so high that governors, mayors and public health officials say it is still not enough.

“Through March, the vaccine supplies have been almost flat as the ability to administer supplies grew,” Yolanda Richardson, secretary of the Government Operations Agency in California, said Thursday. “Unfortunately, like every state in the nation, we have been getting less vaccine than we need.”

California expects to receive 1.8 million doses a week over the next two weeks.

“In April, we expect that to change,” Richardson said. “We are expecting a sharp increase in vaccines starting just in the first week of April.”

In North Carolina, public health officials have been told to expect J&J shipments to resume the weeks of March 29 and April 5 and that 4 million t0 6 million doses will be available nationwide each week.

And in Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis said he is not expecting any shipments of the J&J vaccine “for the next two or three weeks.” The state’s top vaccine official said shipments of the Pfizer BioNTech and Moderna vaccines were expected to remain flat – just shy of 500,000 first doses per week – for the remainder of March.

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The Biden administration pushed out J&J’s entire inventory of 3.9 million vaccines once the product received emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration at the end of February.

“J&J has communicated that the supply will be limited for the next couple of weeks,” Jeff Zients, coordinator of the White House COVID-19 response team, said at the time. “The company then expects to deliver approximately 16 million additional doses by the end of March.”

FEMA SITES CLOSING

The lull in supply comes as the Federal Emergency Management Agency is winding down several vaccination mega-sites in four of Florida’s metropolitan areas — Miami, Tampa, Orlando and Jacksonville.

Mary Hudak, a FEMA spokesperson, said the site closures weren’t tied to an ebb in vaccine supply. The sites were set up for administering three weeks of first doses and three weeks of second doses, she said.

The Biden administration has said that other FEMA sites throughout the country would operate temporarily. One mass vaccination site opening at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta is only planning to stay open for eight weeks.

Two FEMA-supported mass vaccination sites opened in Oakland and Los Angeles in mid-February, with the goal to vaccinate up to 6,000 Californians at each location per day.

By March 11, the California Department of Public Health announced that more than 67% of the doses had gone to underserved Californians as part of the state’s effort to increase vaccination in hard-hit communities.

Zients, on a call with reporters Friday, was unable to provide details on specific federal sites, or how long they are supposed to remain open.

“But I can say across the board, these sites are really an important opportunity to increase the number of places where Americans can get vaccinated,” he said.

“We’re now well over a million doses administered at the federal sites. The federal sites are seen as very well run, and importantly, not only efficiently and effectively delivering vaccines, but doing so in an equitable way,” he said. “The plan is for the federal sites to continue.”

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