Health experts blame rapid expansion for vaccine shortages; Fauci back in briefing room

Public health experts Thursday blamed vaccine shortages around the U.S. in part on the Trump administration’s push to get states to vastly expand their vaccination drives to reach the nation’s estimated 54 million people age 65 and over.

The push that began over a week ago has not been accompanied by enough doses to meet demand, according to state and local officials, leading to frustration and confusion and limiting states’ ability to attack the outbreak that has killed over 400,000 Americans.

Over the past few days, authorities in California, Ohio, West Virginia, Florida and Hawaii warned that their supplies were running out. New York City began canceling or postponing shots or stopped making new appointments because of the shortages, which President Joe Biden has vowed to turn around.

The vaccine rollout so far has been “a major disappointment,” said Dr. Eric Topol, head of the Scripps Research Translational Institute.

Problems started with the Trump administration’s “fatal mistake” of not ordering enough vaccine, which was then snapped up by other countries, Topol said. Then, opening the line to senior citizens set people up for disappointment because there wasn’t enough vaccine, he said. The Trump administration also left crucial planning to the states and didn’t provide the necessary funding.

“It doesn’t happen by fairy dust,” Topol said. “You need to put funds into that.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Anthony Fauci is back in the White House briefing room.

Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, was tasked by President Joe Biden to give an update on the coronavirus pandemic after largely being sidelined in recent months by former president Donald Trump.

Fauci said the new administration would “be completely open and honest” in dealing with the pandemic and, in an implicit rebuke to the Trump administration, said everything now would be “based on science and evidence.”

He also said in the Biden administration, the rule would be “if you don’t know the answer, don’t guess.”

Fauci, who was repeatedly attacked by Trump for breaking with his rosy view of the pandemic, provided an update on the new, more contagious strains of the virus, which has now claimed the lives of more than 400,000 Americans.

In other developments:

  • President Joe Biden is putting forth a national COVID-19 strategy to ramp up vaccinations and testing, reopen schools and businesses and require Americans to wear masks for travel. The United States also will again fund the World Health Organization. And Biden is finding immediate support: Amazon is offering its colossal operations network and advanced technologies to assist the president in his vow to get 100 million COVID-19 vaccinations to Americans in his first 100 days in office.
  • Drugmaker Eli Lilly says its COVID-19 antibody drug can prevent illness among residents and staff of nursing homes and other long-term care locations. It’s the first major study to show that it may prevent disease.
  • More potential COVID-19 vaccines to fight the pandemic still are being tested, and some researchers are driving mobile labs into neighborhoods to recruit diverse volunteers.
  • Fewer Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, lowering claims to 900,000, still a historically high level that points to further job cuts in a raging pandemic.
  • California said it will immediately begin using a batch of coronavirus vaccine after health officials urged a halt to injections and held a review because several people had reactions. The release involves more than 300,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine.

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