Major winter storms, extreme cold and power outages shut down more than 2,000 vaccination sites and delayed delivery of 6 million vaccine doses in all 50 states last week, White House senior adviser Andy Slavitt said in a briefing with reporters Friday.
Extreme weather has spread across large swaths of the United States since Feb. 14. Crippling snowfall and record-cold temperatures hit Oklahoma and Arkansas and triggered power outages across Texas.
The storms set back the Biden administration’s efforts to ramp up vaccine delivery. Earlier in the month, more than 1.5 million doses per day were delivered on average. Preliminary data from last week show a steep drop-off, but full numbers are not yet available.
The weather delayed President Joe Biden’s visit to a Kalamazoo, Michigian, plant producing vaccine from drugmaker Pfizer from Thursday to Friday.
The weather is improving and deliveries are getting back on track, with 1.4 million doses shipping Friday, Slavitt said. But the backups will take time to clear.
“We anticipate that all the backlog doses will be delivered within the next week, with most being delivered within the next several days,” he said.
The weather caused disruptions all along the supply chain, Slavitt said.
A plant packaging vaccines from pharmaceutical company Moderna was knocked offline by a winter storm.
“Roads are being cleared for the workforce to leave their homes,” Slavitt said. “They are working today through Sunday to package the backlogged orders.”
Road closures held up deliveries between manufacturing, distribution and shipping sites. And workers at all three major shipping companies, UPS, FedEx and McKesson, have been snowed in, he added, holding up shipments.
Vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech need to be kept extremely cold while stored, but Slavitt told CNN Thursday that “there hasn’t been a single vaccine that’s spoiled” due to the delays.
“The vaccines are sitting safe and sound in our factories and hubs, ready to be shipped out as soon as the weather allows,” he told reporters Friday.
The disruptions were severe enough for Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker to discuss sending the state’s National Guard to rescue doses trapped in Kentucky and Tennessee.
After federal officials rushed 135,000 doses to the state, Baker spokesperson Kate Reilly said Friday that the governor “appreciates the efforts made to get this critical shipment here and is not anticipating additional delays from the federal government for vaccine shipments at this time.”
Slavitt said the federal government is asking vaccinators to extend hours and offer extra appointments to catch up.
“We will be able to catch up, but we understand this will mean asking more of people,” he said.