Missouri may get 30 percent less of its second dose of Pfizer’s COVID vaccine

    BRIEF

    Doses of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine are prepped to be administered to healthcare workers on the frontlines at Truman Medical Center in Kansas City on Monday, December 14, 2020. (Photo courtesy of Truman Medical Centers/University Health)

    Missouri may be receiving about 25 to 30 percent less of the second dose of Pfizer’s COVID vaccine than it had anticipated, the state health department director said Wednesday.

    The state will “be seeing a little bit less” of the second scheduled dose, Randall Williams, the director of the Department of Health and Senior Services, said during a press conference Wednesday. 

    He said he’s reached out to General Gustave Perna, the chief operating officer for Operation Warp Speed, to find out why that is.

    “This is not unanticipated when you’re dealing with hundreds of thousands of vaccines,” Williams said.

    The news comes hours after Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said the state will now only receive “about half” of its expected doses of Pfizer’s vaccine, citing federal officials telling state leaders that allotments would be slashed nationwide.

    Other states later reported similar reductions or delays, including Iowa, Washington, Michigan, and Florida.

    The discrepancy in the number of expected doses arose from an outdated projection in a Pentagon tracking system that had been used for planning scenarios, McClatchy reported Thursday night.

    A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services told the Iowa Capital Dispatch in a statement Thursday that reports of reductions are “incorrect” and said that like the initial vaccine shipment, states will be receiving deliveries at different sites over several days.

    “This eases the burden on the jurisdictions and spreads the workload across multiple days. This same process was successfully used for the initial distribution of Pfizer’s vaccine, and we are simply applying lessons learned,” the statement read. “Operation Warp Speed is committed to delivering jurisdictions’ allocated vaccines according to their plans safely, quickly and efficiently.”

    In a statement Thursday, Pfizer said it is not having production issues with its vaccine and that “no shipments containing the vaccine are on hold or delayed.”

    “We have millions more doses sitting in our warehouse but, as of now, we have not received any shipment instructions for additional doses,” the statement read.

    Last week, The New York Times reported that Pfizer could not guarantee it would be able to provide more than the initial doses promised to the U.S. after the Trump administration failed to lock in a deal offered over the summer for additional doses.

    When asked about The New Times Report last week, Lisa Cox, a spokeswoman for DHSS said at the time that the article “doesn’t appear to be very properly sourced, so I’m not putting much stake in it right now.”

    Pfizer and the Trump administration are now negotiating a possible deal to help produce millions of doses for the U.S. in 2021, according to The Washington Post.

    Gov. Mike Parson stressed that the decreased supply is not unexpected, as numbers and plans are changing daily.

    “The one thing I want to assure Missourians is that we’re prepared if a vaccine doesn’t come into quantities — or if it comes in more,” Parson said.

    Williams previously said the state had received a commitment of at least 339,775 doses by the end of December — enough to give the initial dose to most of the state’s healthcare workers and long-term care facility residents and staff.

    Both Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines require two shots, spaced out three and four weeks respectively. Williams previously said that the shipment of the second dose would be sent by the federal government closer to the date it needed to be administered.

    Just this week, Missouri and the nation’s first vaccinations against the virus took place, with healthcare workers in St. Louis, Kansas City and Columbia receiving the initial doses. Nearly 1,000 health care workers have already received vaccinations, according to a news release from Parson’s office.

    When asked if he himself would get a COVID vaccine, Parson noted he’s already contracted COVID and would first like to see frontline healthcare workers receive it first.

    Parson also announced Wednesday that 117 healthcare workers, including intensive care unit nurses and respiratory therapists, have been contracted through the private company Vizient and will start bolstering Missouri’s hospital staff Monday. 

    Parson announced the state’s partnership with the Texas-based company two weeks ago, which will bring up to 760 additional workers to the state through February.

    So far, six healthcare systems, including some of the state’s largest providers like BJC Healthcare, SSM Health and St. Luke’s, will have hospitals receiving staff through the company. An additional 42 offers for contracted workers are still pending.

    Dr. Alex Garza, the incident commander of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, was holding a briefing at the same time as Parson’s press conference on Wednesday and didn’t seem to be aware of the governor’s announcement.

    “We don’t have any idea on how many workers or when they would arrive from that contract,” Garza said. 

    A spokeswoman for SSM Health, where Garza is the chief community health officer, said after Garza’s briefing that no one from the healthcare system was aware of the arrival of the contracted staff members until the governor’s press conference.

    One of SSM’s staffing leaders said she received an email from Vizient at about 4:30 p.m., stating that two nurses would be joining the hospital in Jefferson City. A SSM Health spokeswoman later said 12 contracted staff will begin Monday across six different facilities.

    Even with the additional help on the way and the first doses of a vaccine being rolled out, Garza stressed Wednesday that “we continue to be in the most serious and deadly part of the pandemic” and urged Missourians to continue to follow best practices.

    “We can’t really win this war by vaccinating the most vulnerable or asking the most vulnerable to take precautions,” Garza said. “It will take everyone’s commitment to win this war.”

    This story has been updated with comment from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.