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'Slower than expected': Covid vaccines are not being given as quickly as projected

Just over 1 million people have received their first doses of vaccine so far.
Boxes of the Moderna vaccine are prepared to be shipped at the McKesson distribution center in Olive Branch, Miss., on Sunday.Paul Sancya / AP Pool

With only nine days to go, the U.S. probably won't meet the original goal of having 20 million people vaccinated by the end of the year, members of Operation Warp Speed said Wednesday.

"That objective is unlikely to be met," Moncef Slaoui, chief science adviser for Operation Warp Speed, said during a media briefing Wednesday. "The process of immunizations — shots in arms — is happening slower than we thought it would be."

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What Slaoui's team can commit to is the number of doses to be distributed. "We're getting the vaccines out as fast as they are available," Army Gen. Gustave Perna, the chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed, said during the briefing.

As of Wednesday morning, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that more than 1 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine had been administered in the past two weeks.

The data account only for shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and they are likely to lag by several days, as numbers from hundreds of health care and long-term care facilities continue to be reported to the agency.

More than 9.4 million doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been distributed nationwide, according to the CDC.

It's unclear why there's such a big gap between the number of doses delivered to states and the number of actual shots given, but the lag in reporting the data to the CDC could be one reason. In addition, while the distribution numbers include both Pfizer and Moderna, the administered Moderna shots aren't yet counted, according to the CDC.

"It's about access to the vaccine — when it arrives and execution," Perna said.

Perna said he expects that the Operation Warp Speed team will have about 20 million Covid-19 vaccine doses "allocated by the end of the month" but that not all will have been delivered until about the first week of January.

Predictably, the rollout has had "a few snafus," Dr. Greg Poland, director of the Mayo Clinic's Vaccine Research Group in Rochester, Minnesota, said Wednesday during a livestreamed "Doc to Doc" interview with NBC News senior medical correspondent Dr. John Torres.

Still, Poland gave credit to the Operation Warp Speed team. "This is a massive logistical nightmare to try to plan," he said.

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The vaccines are rolling out as the country continues to set records for both Covid-19 cases and related deaths. On Tuesday, the U.S. logged a record 3,350 deaths linked to the coronavirus in a single day. More than 325,000 people have died from Covid-19 in the U.S., and more than 18 million people have been diagnosed.

Earlier Wednesday, the Trump administration announced that it will buy 100 million more doses of Pfizer's vaccine to ensure that every American who wants to be vaccinated can be by summer.

The Department of Health and Human Services said Pfizer will manufacture and deliver up to 100 million doses of the vaccine, on top of the 100 million doses already bought by the U.S. government.

"It is good news there will be more vaccine available," Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, a co-chair of President-elect Joe Biden's Covid-19 advisory board, said Wednesday on MSNBC. "We're heading to our target of getting to 1 million vaccinations a day."

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