Shipment of COVID-19 vaccine to Rhode Island cut by 36% next week

Coronavirus

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island joins a growing list of states to learn that it will receive about a third fewer doses of the Pfizer vaccine than originally promised next week, dealing a blow the state’s rollout plan.

Gov. Gina Raimondo announced Thursday the number of doses expected to be delivered to the state has been cut from 10,725 to 6,825. She said it’s not entirely clear why, as the federal government hasn’t provided an explanation behind the decision.

“We have heard accounts of similar reductions in other states, and no clear explanation has been provided by Operation Warp Speed,” Raimondo said a in statement. “We are calling on the Trump administration to honor its commitments and provide the full allocation to Rhode Island.”

The reduction appears to stem from a breakdown in communication between Operation Warp Speed and Pfizer. The federal government has offered little explanation about what’s going on, while the drug-making company issued a statement saying it’s experiencing no production issues and is awaiting instructions.

“We have millions more doses sitting in our warehouse but, as of now, we have not received any shipment instructions for additional doses,” the company said in a statement issued Thursday.

Whatever the delay, it doesn’t appear to be tied to politics, as both Democrat- and Republican-led states are reporting similar cuts, including Florida, Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, Montana and Washington.

12 News reached out to the White House for an explanation Thursday evening.

The reduction complicates the state’s rollout out plan, as it means fewer people will be able to get the vaccine next week. It could also mean delays in the following weeks, raising questions about how quickly the state will be able to inoculate frontline health care workers.

Likewise, it casts a question mark over when nursing home residents will start receiving the vaccine, a process that was originally supposed to begin at the same time as hospital workers — but was delayed in Rhode Island until at least the week beginning Dec. 28.

“We are continuing to distribute the vaccine as quickly as possible to our frontline health care workers, and we are evaluating the impact of these reductions on our vaccination planning,” Raimondo said.

However, hospitals around the country are finding that vials containing Pfizer’s vaccine have more doses inside than expected.

Both Lifespan and Care New England confirmed Thursday they were able to get more than the five doses intended.

During a weekly interview with 12 News, R.I. Medical Director Dr. James McDonald said the state is adjusting its plans in the wake of the news. He said it also underscores how important it is to get other vaccines into the supply chain. Following the interview, an FDA advisory panel endorsed a second COVID-19 vaccine created by the drug-making company Moderna.

“It’s one of those things where it makes what’s happening at the FDA today with the Moderna vaccine all the more important because it would be nice to have a second vaccine to offer people,” McDonald said.

The R.I. COVID-19 Vaccine Subcommittee, which is offering the Health Department guidance around operations and the administering of vaccines, is already scheduled to meet Friday morning to discuss logistics surrounding the rollout.

Dr. Philip Chan, an infection disease doctor with the state’s Health Department, is also expected to address the issue during the governor’s weekly news conference scheduled for Friday afternoon.

Eli Sherman (esherman@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.

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