CDC says 9 million Americans now vaccinated as US states scramble

Public health experts have said no US state has so far come close to using up its federal allotments of vaccines.
Public health experts have said no US state has so far come close to using up its federal allotments of vaccines.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - Nearly 9 million Americans had been given their first Covid-19 vaccination dose as of Monday morning (Jan 11), the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said, as states scrambled to step up inoculations that have yet to slow the roaring pandemic.

The 8,987,322 people who have been given the first of two shots, according to the CDC, represent less than one-third of the total doses distributed to states by the US government.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer on Monday sought permission from the Trump administration to directly purchase 100,000 doses of the vaccine manufactured by Pfizer and partner BioNTech, which was cleared by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for emergency use.

The FDA has also approved a vaccine made by Moderna.

"We remain ready to accelerate distribution to get doses into arms," Whitmer, a first-term Democrat, said in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters that the city could run out of vaccine doses if the federal government does not send more. He has pledged to inoculate 1 million New Yorkers by the end of January.

US President-elect Joe Biden is considering releasing to states more vaccine doses that the federal government had stockpiled in an effort to ensure enough supply for a required second dose. Biden takes office on Jan 20.

Second shots of both authorised vaccines are prescribed for three or four weeks after the first.

Public health experts have said no US state, including New York, has so far come close to using up its federal allotments of vaccines, a much slower-than-expected roll-out blamed in part on rigid rules sharply limiting who can be inoculated.

The vaccinations have yet to make a dent in the health crisis as the pandemic claimed on average about 3,200 lives nationwide each day over the last week. Covid-19 has killed more than 374,000 people in the United States since March.

States in recent days have been adding vaccination capacity with the ad hoc conversion of sports venues, convention halls and empty schools into vaccine centres. 

Monday marked the last day of testing for the virus at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, which will be converted to a mass vaccination site by the end of the week, according to local leaders.

Los Angeles County, with a population of about 10 million people, has been an epicentre of the latest surge of the pandemic in the United States, with cases and deaths soaring since early November and many hospitals overwhelmed.

Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer told a news conference on Monday that hospitalisations stood at more than 8,000 on Jan 8, an increase of 884 per cent from early November.

“This deadly virus continues to spread at alarming rates... We fully expect to see another increase now that we are almost two weeks out from the New Year’s holiday,” Mr Ferrer said. 

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo last week relented on his demand that all healthcare workers be offered a vaccine before other groups become eligible, which led to hundreds of doses being wasted as half-finished vials were discarded at the end of each day.

He has since said that certain groups of other essential workers and people over age 75 as of Monday can make appointments to receive a shot.

There are now over 4 million people in New York state eligible to receive the vaccine out of a population of about 19 million, Cuomo said on Monday at his annual State of the State Address, but only about 1 million doses on hand.

"We only receive 300,000 doses per week from the federal government," he said. "At this rate, it will take us 14 weeks, just to receive enough dosages for those currently eligible."

New York has so far recorded nearly 40,000 Covid-19 related deaths, by far the most of any US state. Nearly 30,000 people have died in California, the nation’s most populous state.

Texas and Florida have been vaccinating people over age 65 since late December, although reports from those states have indicated that demand has far outstripped appointments.