INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana is among a list of several states that have been told to expect fewer doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in its second week of distribution.
The announcement came Wednesday from Dr. Lindsay Weaver, Chief Medical Officer of the Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH). She said, “We did find out this morning that we were going to get a reduced number of vaccines than we were planning on for next week.”
She said anyone currently scheduled for next week will still be able to get their vaccine and make any adjustments, as needed.
On Friday, an ISDH spokesperson did not confirm the exact number of vaccines short of the expected allocations the state would receive, but wrote to FOX59, “Vaccine allocations continue to be fluid, but we have been told that our Pfizer allocation will be lower than initially discussed.”
The changes in vaccine allocations have prompted concerns and questions about whether there will be delays in shots for frontline health care workers and long-term care residents, both a part of the state’s Phase 1-A vaccine allocation plan.
Alex Azar, Secretary of Health and Human Services, responded to a reporter Wednesday during a press briefing, speaking about production challenges hindering Pfizer’s ability to produce vaccines by a certain date.
However, a spokesperson for Pfizer responded to a request from FOX59, referring to a statement issued by the biopharmaceutical giant on Thursday.
The statement issued by Pfizer reads, in part:
“Pfizer is not having any production issues with our COVID-19 vaccine, and no shipments containing the vaccine are on hold or delayed. This week, we successfully shipped all 2.9 million doses that we were asked to ship by the U.S. Government to the locations specified by them. We have millions more doses sitting in our warehouse but, as of now, we have not received any shipment instructions for additional doses.”
“Now is the time for patience. These kinds of hiccups are not uncommon, though when you’re trying to do a massive roll out of a vaccine campaign,” said Dr. Brian Dixon, Director of Public Health Informatics at the Regenstrief Institute.
He said, “These reductions are probably just a temporary pause. Maybe instead of getting as many distributions on Monday as we were expecting, perhaps we’ll get three or four shipments next week.”
“I don’t think these slight delays in getting the vaccine to the state will dramatically impact our ability to get healthcare workers vaccinated,” said Dixon. He said the community spread the state is reporting is unlikely to be impacted by vaccine shipments this month, since those are not being widely distributed among the general public. ”We really won’t see those kinds of impacts until February or March of next year,” he said.
“It might put us back by a few days, maybe a week at most, but we seem so far to be on track to vaccinate most of the healthcare workers by the end of the month, which was the goal,” said Dixon.
Dr. Thomas Duszynski, Director of Epidemiology Education at the Fairbanks School of Public Health said Friday, “This is definitely a challenge for us. It certainly is a little discouraging, but we have to understand this vaccine was just recently approved and everyone wants as many doses as they can get at this point.”
“We know a lot of people are happy that the vaccine is even here to begin with and we fully knew there’s not gonna be enough vaccine as soon as this starts,” Duszynski said, “the distribution is challenging, the logistics, the cold chain as well. These are common problems we’re going to have to deal with, but the good news is, there’s a vaccine.”
Dixon explained, pharmacists have found a way to get extra doses out of each vial of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, which may help maximize the current supply as the state sees smaller allocations of the vaccine arrive next week.
“Later this week we saw actual guidance from Pfizer come out to say, yes it’s looking like you can get at least one to two extra doses, so go ahead and do that rather than throw away that extra dose that might be left,” he said.
However, health experts said getting the vaccine to the state in the first place is the initial step toward slowing the spread and hopefully returning to ‘normal’ at some time in the near future.
“This is what we’ve been hoping for, right, because the only weapons we’ve had against this have been wearing masks, hand hygiene and staying distant,” said Duszynski.
“The fact that we do have a vaccine within sort of nine to 10 months of the pandemic, I guess a whole year if you consider when it started, is still pretty remarkable,” Dixon shared.
Adam Karcz, Director of Infection Prevention at Riley Hospital for Children said, “We’ve been assured even as the doses go up or go down, we will be able to put a vaccine in everybody’s arm that wants it. We’re continuing to take schedules based on doses.”
Karcz said the vaccine arriving in Indianapolis and becoming available to IU Health employees, community healthcare workers, and specifically Riley Hospital for Children, is a ‘very big opportunity.’
“Everybody has been very excited to volunteer their own time to go ahead and put this clinic on because they believe in the vaccine,” said Karcz Friday at a vaccination clinic for IU Health employees.
“Our healthcare workers have seen this front and center — all of the catastrophic things that have happened.”
”This is a big day for everybody. Everybody’s helping do this. All of the people have been working and taking care of these patients and planning for the last nine months now,” said Cory Showalter, Medical Director of the Emergency Department at Riley Hospital for Children.
”It’s like when the airplanes crash and you’ve gotta get the oxygen tanks on yourself first so I think It’s really important,” talking about healthcare workers receiving the vaccination and as a ripple effect, protecting the patients they serve, as well as the community.
Duszynski, Dixon and Karcz all said with the possibility of more vaccines on the horizon, there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel.
“The vaccine is just one tool we can use to mitigate spread of the virus,” said Karcz.
Dixon said, “There is a lot of hope that we can meet the targets of vaccinating the population sooner if we can get more vaccines through the development pipeline and approved for use in humans.”
“This is gonna look a lot different a year from now and I fully anticipate a year from now we’ll all be together with friends and family. That’s why right now it’s really important to keep up those public health measures until we can get vaccines in arms,” said Duszynski.
However, health experts remind people that the vaccine is not a cure, so people should continue adhering to guidance set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Even if you get vaccinated because it does take some time for those antibodies to build up,” said Duszynski.