US Covid vaccine
There could be a lag between when COVID-19 vaccine shots are produced and when they are cleared for shipment says Gen Gustave Perna, the head of Operation Warp Speed. Image Credit: Bloomberg

Washington: The army general running the U.S. vaccine-distribution effort said that a lag between when shots are produced and when they are cleared for shipment led to widespread confusion over how many doses states will receive next week.

Gen. Gustave Perna, chief operations officer for Operation Warp Speed, the U.S. vaccine program, said he took “personal responsibility” for a miscommunication that led some states to complain that they were having their allocations reduced without explanation.

Perna said that after doses of Pfizer Inc.’s COVID-19 vaccine are manufactured U.S. authorities must check their quality and deem them ready for release. In the first week of allocations, he said, an inventory of verified shots had built up. But for the second week, newly manufactured doses needed to be checked, meaning states would receive fewer than they had anticipated.

The U.S. is still on track to ship 7.9 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine next week, Perna said, including 2 million of Pfizer’s shot and 5.9 million of the Moderna Inc. vaccine authorized for emergency use on Friday by the Food and Drug Administration. Distribution of Moderna’s shot has begun, with boxes being packed Saturday for shipments that will arrive starting Monday.

Operation Warp Speed initially gave states forecasts for the expected supply of Pfizer shots to base their plans on, Perna said. But when next week’s allocations were set on Tuesday, “I had to lower the allocations to meet the releaseable doses that were presented to me,” Perna said in a briefing with reporters on Saturday.

The explanation caps a week of contradictory assertions from state leaders, federal officials and Pfizer. The drugmaker said this week it had millions of doses that were awaiting shipping instructions from the U.S., while U.S. officials disputed that any vaccine was being held up.

Plans and reality

Perna blamed the confusion on a gap between plans and reality. “Paper plans are very good,” he said. “Execution is where we learn and we adapt accordingly.” He said the country should expect a steady flow of vaccines in the weeks and months ahead.

The delay in releasing Pfizer shots was a timing issue, Perna said, rather than a problem with the underlying quality of the vaccines.

“To the best of my knowledge, there has been zero problem with the Pfizer vaccines going from manufactured to releasable,” he said. “It is just about the process that you have to go through to get to releasable.”

Washington Governor Jay Inslee said he had spoken to Perna and thanked him for the explanation in a tweet Friday evening. “It appears this is not indicative of long-term challenges with vaccine production,” Inslee said.

Perna said the U.S. remains on track to allocate 20 million doses of the vaccines by the end of December, though some may be delivered in the first week of January.