Health experts blame rapid expansion for vaccine shortages

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A man who came to get a COVID-19 vaccine holds his paperwork as he talks to a New York City health department worker outside a closed vaccine hub, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021, in the Brooklyn borough of New York. Public health experts are blaming COVID-19 vaccine shortages around the U.S. in part on the Trump administration's push to get states to vastly expand their vaccination drives to reach the nation's estimated 54 million people age 65 and over. The push that began over a week ago has not been accompanied by enough doses to meet demand, leading to frustration and confusion. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Public health experts Thursday blamed COVID-19 vaccine shortages around the U.S. in part on the Trump administration’s push to get states to vastly expand their vaccination drives to reach the nation’s estimated 54 million people age 65 and over.

The push that began over a week ago has not been accompanied by enough doses to meet demand, according to state and local officials, leading to frustration and confusion and limiting states’ ability to attack the outbreak that has killed over 400,000 Americans.

Over the past few days, authorities in California, Ohio, West Virginia, Florida and Hawaii warned that their supplies were running out. New York City began canceling or postponing shots or stopped making new appointments because of the shortages, which President Joe Biden has vowed to turn around. Florida's top health official said the state would deal with the scarcity by restricting vaccines to state residents.

The vaccine rollout so far has been “a major disappointment,” said Dr. Eric Topol, head of the Scripps Research Translational Institute.

Problems started with the Trump administration’s “fatal mistake” of not ordering enough vaccine, which was then snapped up by other countries, Topol said. Then, opening the line to senior citizens set people up for disappointment because there wasn’t enough vaccine, he said. The Trump administration also left crucial planning to the states and didn’t provide the necessary funding.

“It doesn’t happen by fairy dust,” Topol said. “You need to put funds into that.”

Last week, before Biden took over as president, the U.S. Health and Human Services Department suggested that the frustration was the result of unrealistic expectations among the states as to how much vaccine was on the way.

But some public health experts said that the states have not been getting reliable information on vaccine deliveries and that the amounts they have been sent have been unpredictable. That, in turn, has made it difficult for them to plan how to inoculate people.