Around the country, states are rushing to use up doses before they expire this summer.
In Tennessee and North Carolina, demand for the COVID-19 vaccine has slowed down so much that they have given millions of doses back to the federal government, even though less than half of their total populations are vaccinated.
Oklahoma has not asked for new doses from the government for more than a month, spurning its 2,00,000-a-week allotment. Around the country, states are rushing to use up doses before they expire this summer.
The U.S. is confronted with an ever-growing surplus of coronavirus vaccine, looming expiration dates and stubbornly lagging demand at a time when the developing world is clamouring for doses to stem a rise in infections.
Million-dollar prizes, free beer and marijuana, raffled-off hunting rifles and countless other giveaways around the country have failed to significantly move the needle on vaccine hesitancy, raising the spectre of new outbreaks.
The stockpiles are becoming more daunting each week. Oklahoma has more than 7,00,000 doses on shelves but is administering only 4,500 a day and has 27,000 Pfizer and Moderna doses that are set to expire at the end of the month.
Millions of Johnson & Johnson doses nationwide were set to expire this month before the government extended their dates by six weeks, but some leaders acknowledge it will be difficult to use them up even by then.
“We really cannot let doses expire. That would be a real outrage, given the need to get vaccines to some under-vaccinated communities in the U.S. and the glaring gap in vaccinations and the inequity of vaccinations that we have globally,” said Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, chair of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco.
The U.S. averaged about 8,70,000 new injections per day at the end of last week, down sharply from a high of about 3.3 million a day on average in mid-April, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
President Joe Biden wants to have 70% of the adult U.S. population at least partially vaccinated by July 4. But the U.S. could well fail to meet that target. As of Friday, 64% of Americans 18 and older had had at least one dose, by the CDC’s count.
Some states, especially in the Northeast, have already reached that 70% goal for adults, while places such as Mississippi and Alabama are nowhere close. Mississippi, in fact, has been transferring large quantities of vaccine to other states and the federal government.
Amid the glut, the White House has announced plans to share 80 million doses globally by the end of June and also buy 500 million more doses of the Pfizer vaccine and donate them to 92 lower-income countries and the African Union over the next year.
With demand stronger in Maine and Rhode Island, the two states received 32,400 doses each from Mississippi, where only about one-third of the state is at least partially vaccinated. Mississippi has also transferred 8,00,000 doses to a federal vaccine pool. The state has seen demand plunge to levels not seen since the opening weeks of the vaccine rollout, with only 18,400 doses administered there this week.
Mississippi State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said Friday that the state health department was more than happy to help states in the Northeast.
“In Mississippi, if people don’t understand how important it is to keep alive, we want to protect other Americans,” he said.
Each week, states are allotted a number of doses from the government and are allowed to order shots from that. But more states, including Oklahoma, Alabama, Utah, Delaware and New Hampshire, have stopped placing orders for new doses in recent weeks because they have such a large inventory. That has added to the ballooning federal stockpile.
Those skipping the vaccine include Benjamin Schlink of Pearl, Mississippi, who said he believes he is healthy enough to fight the illness.