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How COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution And Immunization Are Going In States

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

This pandemic has been marked by confusing, contradictory messages from the top. And the federal government's distribution of coronavirus vaccines to the states has followed the same pattern. Over the weekend, the man in charge of the rollout, General Gus Perna, bluntly admitted that he had failed.

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GUS PERNA: I failed. I am adjusting. I am fixing. And we will move forward from there.

SHAPIRO: Perna took responsibility after more than a dozen states said they were promised a certain number of doses, only to have that number slashed at the last minute. Oregon, Washington, California and Nevada saw their batches cut by 40%. Well, for a big-picture look at how this process is going so far, we're joined once again by Claire Hannan. She is the executive director of the Association of Immunization Managers.

Welcome back.

CLAIRE HANNAN: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: When we spoke two weeks ago, you said there was no shortage of challenges. Has the reality been better or worse than you expected?

HANNAN: Gosh, that's a good question. I mean, I would say the reality is better because we're actually seeing people get vaccinating. And honestly, you know, nothing is more motivating than that. So we're actually seeing some success. So, you know, I think it's great.

SHAPIRO: So on the good side, shots are going into arms. On the bad side, what's on the other end of the seesaw?

HANNAN: Exactly. Well, you talked about the hiccup with the allocation. And I think, you know, we have previously discussed how important it is for states to be able to plan, to have...

SHAPIRO: You're calling it a hiccup. Is it more of a hiccup or more of a systemic problem?

HANNAN: I'm calling it a hiccup because I think we learned from it. I think you heard, you know, General Perna say we're moving forward. I feel like it's water under the bridge. We are now into a week where I think everybody got their allocation. I haven't heard any confusion over that. States are working, putting their orders in. We have the Moderna vaccine getting shipped out this week. So, you know, I think we've righted the ship a bit, and we're starting to sail it.

SHAPIRO: You're talking about being able to forecast what's coming down the road. I mean, in our last conversation, you described this as a chess game where you have to plan five moves ahead. What does it mean on the ground if you're planning based on incomplete or bad information?

HANNAN: Yeah, exactly. I mean, we had states that had, you know, notified hospitals. Hospitals were planning clinics. They had put aside a certain percentage of doses for their long-term care facility program. And then when the allocation came in, that was much shorter. They really had to amend those plans. So, you know, lesson learned. You really need to have that good estimate. I feel like we have that now. I know that states have a good sense of what they're getting for the next several weeks. You know, hopefully that holds. So I think we're in a better position right now than we were a week ago.

SHAPIRO: So tell us what this means practically. Are frontline health care workers being vaccinated a week later than they thought they'd be, or are certain people not getting vaccinated? I mean, what does it mean in practice?

HANNAN: I think it means that some hospitals will be starting a little later. But I think we're seeing that hospitals are moving at a very cautious pace. They're staggering their workforce. They're not trying to vaccinate everyone overnight. I think that health care workers will just continue to get vaccinated more and more and more every week.

SHAPIRO: We've been talking about the number of doses and what arrived compared to what was expected. But there are also logistics questions, for example, about how cold the vaccine needs to be kept and the supply chain. Have there been hiccups in that area as well?

HANNAN: I think there have been a few hiccups. You know, some of the packages arrived very early. But those shipments were there. And, you know, I think we've gotten the timing down better, you know, providers knowing exactly what time the shipment's going to come. With the Pfizer vaccine, Pfizer sends out emails. They can track the package - so, you know, a few less delivery hiccups, I think, this week than last week.

SHAPIRO: Does it make a difference that now there are two vaccines being distributed and the Moderna vaccine does not need to be kept quite as cold as the Pfizer vaccine?

HANNAN: This makes a huge difference. The Moderna vaccine coming in a frozen package that doesn't require any dry ice or, you know, any specialty ultracold equipment to store and also that it comes in a hundred doses - this is just really a godsend to spread the vaccine across rural areas, across smaller hospitals. You don't have to send it to a large hospital that has an ultracold freezer. That really limits how far you can spread the vaccine. So the Moderna vaccine coming in has really been huge. It's a game-changer. It's allowing more doses to get more widespread in every state.

SHAPIRO: Claire Hannan is executive director of the Association of Immunization Managers.

Good to talk to you again. Thank you.

HANNAN: Thanks. Thanks so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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