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More Than 1 Million People Have Received COVID-19 Vaccinations

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Well, as the second week of COVID-19 vaccinations draws to an end, leaders of that effort say there are still some hiccups in distributing and administering the vaccine, but they say things are going more smoothly. More than a million people have gotten COVID-19 vaccines so far, though that is short of the goals that were set out. We have NPR's Pien Huang here - she has been covering this - to talk about what we know. Pien, good morning.

PIEN HUANG, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So a million sounds good, on one hand, given that, you know, these vaccines were approved not so long ago. But it sounds like, on the other hand, the goal for the end of the month was a lot higher. So what are the prospects of hitting that goal?

HUANG: Yeah. So originally the federal government had said that 20 million people could get vaccinated by the end of the year, and now they're kind of parsing that. You know, they're saying 20 million vaccine doses will be available for states who order by the end of the year, but how many people actually get vaccinated is going to be up to states. And each state has its own plan for vaccine distribution. Many of them had initially said they can vaccinate all of their health care workers in three weeks. But now that vaccines are actually arriving, Claire Hannan, head of the Association of Immunization Managers, says it's been more like a ramping up.

CLAIRE HANNAN: Hospitals are moving at a very, you know, cautious pace. They're staggering their workforce. They're meeting with their health care workers, their personnel. They're listening to them. They're engaging with them. They're not trying to vaccinate everyone overnight.

GREENE: OK, so taking a careful approach. But I have to ask, I mean, not going fast, it sounds like there are going be a lot fewer than 20 million by next week.

HUANG: Yeah, that's right. And what we're seeing is something that public health experts have been saying for a while - that giving out vaccines takes a lot more than just getting out doses. You know, you have to have people trained and clinics set up to give it out. You have to have communication so people know where to go and come willingly to get it, and these are all things that are getting figured out right now.

GREENE: Well, there's also this issue that states say they're not getting the doses that they expected. Are you getting an understanding of what exactly is going on there?

HUANG: Yeah. So that issue actually appears to be largely resolved at this point. It turns out that it was an issue of expectation versus reality. So the estimates that states were given didn't match what they could actually order for this week, and states were getting up to 40% fewer vaccines than they had expected. And General Gus Perna of Operation Warp Speed said that they hadn't factored in some steps between making a vaccine and clearing it for release, and that had thrown the estimates off.

Those shifting numbers actually made it really hard for states to plan. You know, they're telling hospitals and nursing homes to get ready, to sign people up to get their shots on a certain day. And then they've had to say, hold up. Never mind. Let's maybe try for next week. So Operation Warp Speed says they hear that it's been hard. They're getting things into a regular flow where states can order vaccines every week, and that should make it smoother going forward.

GREENE: Let me ask you about a really vulnerable community, nursing home residents. It sounds like they are starting to get vaccinated. How is that effort going?

HUANG: Yeah, absolutely. So pharmacy teams have started going out in about a dozen states, including Ohio and Connecticut and Florida, and at least a dozen and maybe more states will be joining next week. So most states have opted into this federal program where teams from national pharmacy chains like CVS and Walgreens will be visiting nursing homes and other long-term care facilities to give COVID vaccines to both their residents and their staff, and they're sending teams of pharmacists and technicians to facilities at least three times to try and cover everyone with those two doses required for the vaccine.

And as you mentioned, long-term care facilities have been hit really hard by the pandemic. They account for 40% of deaths. So health officials are saying that we could start seeing a decrease in overall COVID mortality within weeks of this program being launched.

GREENE: All right. That is the update on these much-awaited vaccines starting to get out there into the country as we get an update on this Christmas Day. NPR's Pien Huang, thank you so much.

HUANG: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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