Members of the White House COVID-19 task force on Wednesday said the administration has reached its initial target of averaging 1 million vaccinations a day but warned it could take months before everyone who wants a vaccine can get one.
In the first of the Biden administration's promised regular updates on the nation's pandemic response, Andy Slavitt, senior adviser to the task force, said 47 million doses have been distributed to states and long-term care facilities. But only 24 million have been administered, while an estimated 3.4 million people have received their second dose.
An average of 1.1 million vaccinations a day have been conducted since Jan. 21, according to figures presented by the response team. The daily vaccination rate declined over the past two days, averaging more than 845,000 doses from Jan. 25 through Jan. 26.
Slavitt said 1 million vaccinations a day represented reaching the "floor, not the ceiling" in terms of the administration's effort.
But the administration's push is constrained by vaccine supply and how quickly providers can administer doses received, Slavitt said.
"Any stockpile that may have existed previously no longer exists," Slavitt said. "Our practice is to maintain a rolling inventory of two to three days of supply that we can use to supplement any shortfalls in production and to ensure that we are making deliveries as committed."
President Joe Biden signed an executive order last week to invoke the Defense Production Act to increase vaccine production. The White House on Tuesday announced plans to increase weekly vaccine supplies going to states over the next three weeks by 16% for a minimum of 10 million doses.
Biden on Tuesday also said the U.S. will purchase an additional 200 million vaccine doses from Pfizer and Moderna. Those doses and estimated production increases should allow the country to fully vaccinate 300 million Americans by the end of summer or beginning of fall.
Plans are underway to acquire what Slavitt called "low dead syringes" that could get six doses out of the vials of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. Some healthcare providers have reported having to throw doses of the vaccine because they have received syringes and needles that couldn't extract all of the doses from vials.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency will allocate $1 billion to support state vaccination sties and deploy more personnel, Slavitt said. White House COVID-19 Coordinator Jeffrey Zients said Wednesday that HHS would amend rules to temporarily permit retired clinicians to administer vaccines as well as those licensed in other states.
"This action by HHS today will help get more vaccinators in the field," Zients said.
In terms of the state of pandemic itself, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said the most recent seven-day average of more than 166,000 cases from Jan. 19 to Jan. 25 marked a 20% decline over the average of more than 209,000 reported from Jan. 11 to Jan. 18. Walensky said new hospital admissions from COVID-19 fell by 15% and deaths decreased by 5% over the same period.
Despite the downward trend, Walensky cautioned the spread of new, more contagious coronavirus variants could cause another uptick in cases. Current projections indicated the U.S. could have from 479,000 to 514,000 deaths by Feb. 20.
"Though I am encouraged by these trends, our case rates remain extraordinarily high," Walensky said. "Now is the time to remain vigilant."