Trump administration leaves Biden with 'confusing' Covid-19 vaccine numbers and states in limbo

CNN's Sara Murray reports a lack of cooperation of the Trump administration has contributed to a sense of nervousness among Joe Biden's incoming team as they take on the challenge of distributing the coronavirus vaccine.

Posted: Jan 20, 2021 12:40 PM
Updated: Jan 20, 2021 12:40 PM

States across the country say they're running low on coronavirus vaccine supply, with many officials insisting the vaccine delivery numbers reported by the Trump administration don't align with what they are seeing on the ground.

From New York to Tennessee to West Virginia, officials are clamoring for more doses of coronavirus vaccine. And officials in those states said that federal tallies suggesting they have thousands of doses sitting on the shelves don't accurately reflect the supply of vaccine on hand.

The confusion around vaccine supply -- and the gap between what officials said is happening locally and the numbers the Trump administration is reporting -- presents an immediate challenge for the incoming Biden administration.

A source close to the Biden transition team said there is enormous concern among the incoming administration about the accuracy of the numbers that have been released by the federal government. It was only within the last few days that the transition team was given access to Tiberius, the system that shows states how many doses are available to them and allows states to determine delivery locations.

Until then, the team was working solely off numbers they received from manufacturers, unable to cross check and confirm, the source told CNN on Tuesday.

All of this means the Biden team still isn't sure what it will be confronted with when President-elect Joe Biden takes office on Wednesday. Despite frustration, the source said Biden's team has been hesitant to broadcast just how they were left in the dark out of concern that the Trump administration would stop cooperating altogether.

"This is a very confusing time for understanding these numbers and as we talk more and more to the Biden administration, we're learning that they are trying to sort this out as well," Lori Tremmel Freeman, chief executive officer of the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO), told CNN on Tuesday. "With the change of administration happening at this very moment, they don't appear to totally know yet what vaccine numbers we're talking about and what is the reality."

Trump administration officials, meantime, said they have held hundreds of meetings with the incoming Biden coronavirus team.

"This is a concerted effort by the new team to down-talk where things are, so they could look like heroes when they come in and just carry forward the momentum that we have established," outgoing Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said on Fox News on Monday.

'We're just scratching our heads trying to figure out what the truth is'

The finger-pointing is of little use to states, which are clamoring for more vaccine and clearer numbers from the federal government about how much is truly available.

"Nobody knows where that number is coming from," Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey told CNN on Tuesday when asked why the federal government's tally of doses distributed in the state is 76,000 higher than the state's count.

"We don't count it on our dashboard until we have it in hand," Piercey said. "We don't want to, you know, get people's hopes up."

A senior administration official told CNN that the numbers from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention accurately reflect doses that are distributed or delivered. As of Tuesday afternoon, the CDC's website notes that the term "distributed" refers to the cumulative count of vaccine doses recorded as shipped in the CDC's Vaccine Tracking System.

Yet that has not been the experience in some states.

"The doses distributed means that they've given us a number, we have told them where it needs to go in the system to get sent out, but that does not mean that it's been shipped," said Kris Ehresmann, director of infectious disease epidemiology, prevention and control for the Minnesota Department of Health.

"The doses shipped, that means we've got a FedEx tracking number and it's left the facility," Ehresmann said. "The doses distributed are doses that have been promised to the state, that the state has accepted and given a location where those doses should be shipped. And the disconnect is that those doses haven't necessarily arrived in the state."

And governors in Minnesota, West Virginia and New York have all said in recent days that they are running low on vaccine.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said Monday his state had "a very limited supply."

"The federal government has been giving mixed messages on vaccine availability and guidance, and we need them to step up and get more vaccine to the state," Walz said.

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice echoed the need for more vaccine in a news conference Tuesday.

"We can't give you a vaccine shot, if we don't have the vaccines," Justice said. "Today, right now -- if they send us vaccines, we will put them in somebody's arm and as soon as we put them in somebody's arm it's going to be saving somebody's life."

There was always going to be a shortage of vaccine in the early months of distribution because production can't keep up with the national demand. But states have repeatedly expressed frustration that they can't get clear answers from the Trump administration about how much vaccine will become available and when.

Hopes of a surge in vaccine shipments fizzled last week after the Trump administration announced a new policy to release second vaccine doses that had been held in reserve, only to later admit that many of those doses had already been distributed.

"This is making our health departments nervous and anxious that those second dose quantities -- thought to be held in protected reserve -- may have actually disappeared somehow. We need rapid transparency and clarity on overall vaccine supply in order to pivot planning and messaging on the ground in communities," Freeman said. "We're just scratching our heads trying to figure out what the truth is."

Mounting challenges for Biden's team

By the CDC's count, more than 31 million doses of vaccine have been distributed and less than half -- roughly 12.3 million shots -- have been administered, as of Friday.

But states said there's no way half their doses are sitting on shelves or in freezers.

A number of factors could be contributing to the confusion. The CDC's distribution numbers reflect the doses that have been shipped, but that doesn't necessarily mean they have been received yet. The federal totals also include doses that have been earmarked for nursing home residents and those vaccinations have been recorded more slowly, according to health officials.

Some vaccines may have also been distributed to clinics or providers that are moving at a slower pace. In some cases, resource-depleted states have determined it's easier to keep those doses where they are rather than attempt the complicated process of transporting and redistributing them.

"It's not practical for states to consider trying to recall them or move them. It's better for states to support these providers in getting them into arms," said Claire Hannan, executive director for the Association of Immunization Managers.

Unwinding exactly what's mucking up the numbers -- and speeding up the supply of vaccine -- will ultimately be a problem that falls to the incoming Biden administration.

"For example, in Minnesota, we're moving vaccine through as quickly as we can and our numbers for vaccination are far different than what has been described as distributed," Michael Osterholm, a member of Biden's coronavirus advisory board, told CNN on Tuesday. "So that's one of the challenges -- that's where states have been frustrated because they've been getting caught in people perceiving there's a lot more vaccine available than there really is."

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1097128

Reported Deaths: 17438
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1437882222
Lake712531225
Allen65537867
Hamilton50147482
St. Joseph48760639
Elkhart39461538
Vanderburgh34221495
Tippecanoe30237271
Johnson27179463
Hendricks25845379
Porter25014381
Madison20656444
Clark19898275
Vigo18764308
LaPorte16857260
Delaware16425291
Howard16408311
Monroe16379217
Kosciusko13936163
Hancock12841185
Bartholomew12686188
Warrick11995189
Wayne11879265
Floyd11869225
Grant11701235
Morgan10252188
Boone9675120
Noble9069121
Henry9002165
Marshall8907146
Dearborn881799
Dubois8710139
Shelby8054128
Cass8014127
Lawrence7922182
DeKalb7591106
Huntington7448108
Jackson743893
Gibson7002118
Montgomery6910123
Harrison685296
Knox6827113
Steuben654186
Miami6477107
Whitley642260
Putnam631982
Clinton618976
Wabash6060108
Jasper601791
Jefferson5689103
Ripley549192
Adams532381
Daviess5003116
Scott480378
Wells471799
White468767
Greene461799
Clay457462
Decatur4529109
Jennings439666
Fayette435694
LaGrange419290
Posey403244
Washington384154
Randolph3818107
Fountain368362
Spencer355846
Fulton355572
Starke348772
Owen346276
Sullivan344954
Orange324470
Jay318650
Rush298332
Carroll289438
Franklin286744
Perry283253
Vermillion280458
Tipton247365
Parke246330
Pike244144
Blackford218044
Pulaski205658
Newton179052
Brown171850
Crawford167929
Benton163217
Martin150819
Switzerland145112
Warren132216
Union117816
Ohio91413
Unassigned0585

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1683472

Reported Deaths: 26483
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1766331826
Cuyahoga1641462636
Hamilton1122641528
Montgomery794721387
Summit702171199
Lucas618431017
Butler55878803
Stark525841170
Lorain41058639
Warren35404412
Mahoning35095769
Lake31445493
Clermont30711362
Delaware26682182
Trumbull26664611
Licking26200335
Medina25291351
Fairfield24173287
Greene24051369
Clark21653387
Portage20709280
Richland20587336
Wood19626246
Allen18542320
Miami17031348
Columbiana16502331
Muskingum16416206
Wayne15432304
Tuscarawas14086357
Marion13054194
Erie12423198
Ashtabula12314225
Scioto12235182
Pickaway12070151
Ross11487223
Hancock11256173
Geauga10666174
Lawrence10504171
Belmont10259231
Huron9588155
Jefferson9462225
Union939175
Sandusky9068166
Seneca8692156
Knox8618169
Washington8613156
Athens827396
Darke8270179
Ashland7840147
Auglaize7741115
Shelby7337132
Defiance7210114
Crawford7082150
Brown7052115
Fulton7016111
Logan6857108
Mercer681697
Guernsey680283
Highland6615117
Madison641389
Clinton6388106
Williams628798
Preble6171139
Putnam6089120
Jackson572396
Champaign568286
Perry558879
Coshocton5552103
Ottawa553599
Morrow506464
Fayette483170
Hardin477899
Gallia462978
Pike459076
Van Wert454691
Adams4514109
Henry424976
Hocking401493
Holmes3939137
Wyandot367973
Carroll351578
Paulding319349
Meigs302457
Monroe231860
Noble216447
Morgan210138
Harrison205152
Vinton183937
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