'Where are our doses?': Whitmer frustrated by decreased vaccine supply

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Lansing — In an emotional plea Friday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer urged the White House to explain why Michigan and other states are receiving a fraction of the coronavirus vaccines they were promised. 

Whitmer expressed her frustration after mourning the loss of Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon, who died Thursday of complications associated with COVID-19.

More:Michigan to receive fewer doses of Pfizer vaccine next week

People like Napoleon are dying every day, Whitmer said, but answers from the Trump administration about vaccine availability are nonexistent.

"We have Michigan hospitals and nursing homes ready to administer this vaccine and the bottleneck appears to be the White House and I can’t get an answer why," she said. 

Michigan health officials expected about 84,000 doses next week. Instead, the state's allocation will be 60,000 doses, about a third less, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. The state received 84,825 doses from Pfizer Inc.'s first shipments this week.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addresses the public during a press conference in Lansing on Friday.

"Where are our doses? What is holding them up?"

Whitmer said Pfizer, which is manufacturing the entire North American supply at its flagship facility in Portage, hasn't received the information it needs from the federal government in order to ship vaccines it has in stock.

"There are millions of Pfizer vaccines, many right here in Portage, Michigan, that are waiting to be shipped, but the feds are slow-walking the process of getting the addresses to Pfizer for some reason I cannot get an answer to," Whitmer said. 

Operation Warp Speed, the public-private partnership created by the Trump administration to develop and deploy a COVID-19 vaccine, is in charge of logistics, along with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

Wayne County Deputy Health Director Jennifer Floyd receives the first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 18, 2020 at the Wayne County Health Administration Building in Wayne.

Asked about Whitmer's allegation, Pfizer spokeswoman Jerica Pitts referenced a statement the company issued Thursday, which said the company hasn't received shipment directions for millions of doses it has stockpiled. 

“Pfizer is not having any production issues with our COVID-19 vaccine, and no shipments containing the vaccine are on hold or delayed," the statement said. "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."

Senior administration officials say Pfizer’s statement about doses awaiting shipping instructions, while technically accurate, conveniently omits the explanation: It was planned that way.

The federal officials said Pfizer committed to provide 6.4 million doses of its vaccine in the first week after approval. But the federal Operation Warp Speed had already planned to distribute only 2.9 million of those doses right away.

Whitmer said Friday that the decreased shipment is especially frustrating knowing the vaccine is available within the state in Portage. The state is staffing and preparing for a given allotment, only to receive far less.

"If I sound frustrated, that’s because I am," she said. "I know that governors across the country are feeling the same way.

"We are expected to build out an apparatus for which we have no resources.”

But the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services contended it hasn't reduced its allocations to the states. 

"Reports that jurisdictions’ allocations are being reduced are incorrect. As was done with the initial shipments of Pfizer vaccine, jurisdictions will receive vaccine at different sites over several days," the department said in a statement. 

"This eases the burden on the jurisdictions and spreads the workload across multiple days. This same process was successfully used for the initial distribution of Pfizer’s vaccine, and we are simply applying lessons learned."

eleblanc@detroitnews.com

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