WASHINGTON • Millions of Covid-19 vaccines are sitting unused in US hospitals and elsewhere a week into a massive inoculation campaign, putting the government's target for 20 million vaccinations this month in doubt.
More than a million Americans have received the first dose of the vaccines, a milestone in the biggest immunisation drive in United States history, but officials have admitted the pace of roll-out is behind schedule.
As of Wednesday morning, only one million shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine had been given, about one-third of the first shipment sent last week.
At its current pace, the US appears to have the capacity to administer less than a third of the shots that are shipped in a given week, underscoring the gap.
The news comes as the winter Covid-19 surge rages across the country, where the virus has claimed over 320,000 lives and is on course to be the third-leading cause of death for the year.
Over 9.5 million doses of vaccines, including Moderna's, have now been sent to states across America, according to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Tennessee emerged alongside California on Wednesday as an epicentre of the latest Covid-19 surge, as US political leaders sought to guard against a highly contagious coronavirus variant sweeping across Britain.
While US hospitals have started giving out Moderna's vaccine, the CDC has not yet reported that data and there may be a lag in reporting shots given of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
The slow pace has barely picked up from the first week, when 614,000 shots were given, although nearly 2.9 million doses were shipped.
Some hospitals said they administered only about 100 shots on the first day of the vaccination programme.
"The commitment that we can make is to make vaccine doses available," US Operation Warp Speed chief adviser Moncef Slaoui said on a Wednesday press call.
He noted the rate of people getting a shot is "slower than we thought it would be".
The government's goal is 100 million Pfizer and Moderna shots by March 1.
US Army General Gustave Perna said on Wednesday that some deliveries of the first 20 million doses will drag on until the first week of next month.
The US Congress' current coronavirus aid package sets aside more than US$8 billion (S$10.63 billion) for vaccine distribution but is delayed.
"You can't hire someone in December and train them up if you don't know you can pay them in January," said Mr Adriane Casalotti, chief of government and public affairs of the National Association of County and City Health Officials.
Three states have now vaccinated more than 1 per cent of their populations: North Dakota, West Virginia, and Alaska. California leads in total vaccinations at 128,000 shots.
China, which has several home-grown vaccines, said on Dec 19 that it had reached the million-dose milestone. Those figures include some people who have already taken a second dose.
Russia has vaccinated 440,000 people. Britain is also making rapid progress in innoculating its population.
REUTERS, BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE