White House officials on Friday confirmed the extent of the weather's chilling effect on COVID-19 vaccine distribution, saying this week's storms created a backlog of some 6 million doses affecting all 50 states.
That number represents three days' worth of delayed shipments, said Andy Slavitt, senior adviser on the White House COVID-19 Response Team. He added that many states have been able to cover some of the delay with their existing inventory, and that the Biden administration expects to make up the backlog shortly.
"If we all work together, from the factory, all the way to the vaccinators, we will make up for it in the coming week," Slavitt said during the briefing.
He said 1.4 million doses are in transit on Friday, and that most of the backlogged doses are expected to be delivered within the next several days.
The impact of the historic storms on vaccine distribution became clear throughout the week, as dangerous driving conditions and widespread power outages forced numerous states and localities to cancel vaccine appointments and close down clinics. Many, from Nevada to Florida, reported getting word of delayed shipments.
Extreme weather snarled the process at three main places along the distribution chain, according to Slavitt. Many UPS, FedEx and McKesson workers were snowed in and unable to package the vaccines and supplies, and road closures further held up deliveries between hubs.
And more than 2,000 vaccination sites were located in areas without power, Slavitt said, meaning they would have been unable to store doses at the proper temperatures. Doses for those sites were held back rather than risk expiration, he said, and will be shipped as soon as weather permits.
"With everybody's hard work and collective effort we will be able to catch up, but we understand this will mean asking more of people," Slavitt said.
States, sites and vaccinators should take extra steps to prepare for additional vaccine volume and get doses into more peoples' arms, Slavitt said. The administration is asking vaccine sites to extend their hours, offer additional appointments and try to reschedule canceled appointments in the coming days and weeks.
He also announced plans to stand up five additional mass vaccination sites in Florida and Pennsylvania, which the federal government will work with state and local jurisdictions to get up and running in the next two weeks.