Tight provide creates reluctance over federal vaccine websites

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The Biden government's plan to open 100 vaccination sites by the end of the month was originally welcomed by governors and health officials, who viewed it as a much-needed lifeline to get more Americans vaccinated against the coronavirus.

But reality quickly set in: some are reluctant to take up the offer, at least for now, saying they no longer need places to dispense doses. You just need more cans.

Oklahoma health officials were keen to keep more people safe from the coronavirus and took the chance to add large, federally sponsored vaccination sites. They wanted them in Oklahoma City, Tulsa, and a third midsize town, Lawton, and thought the extra help would allow them to send more cans to smaller communities that hadn't yet benefited.

"We felt we could get them into the subway areas. That would allow us to … free up many of our other resources for more targeted vaccinations in underserved areas," said Keith Reed, assistant health commissioner for the state.

Those plans are now being put on hold after the state learned that the sites would not contain additional vaccines. Instead, the doses would have to be taken from the state's existing allocation, and the three sites alone could have consumed more than half of Oklahoma's vaccine supply.

"We're not ready to pull the trigger unless it comes with a vaccine," Reed said.

The Biden government's virus response plan is to open 100 government-sponsored vaccination centers by the end of February. It is preparing to mobilize thousands of employees and contractors from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Defense, and other federal agencies. They have already provided money, staff, or logistical support to many state and local vaccination efforts, but President Joe Biden's plan specifically relates to establishing new sites to provide vaccines to underserved communities.

White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain pointed out the initiative earlier this month after initial locations in Los Angeles and Oakland were announced. Since then, the administration has announced a handful of others.

"We just opened our first two vaccination centers in California this week," Klain told NBC News. "We're on our way to 100 of them by the end of this month."

The White House told The Associated Press it could not provide a record of how many of the 100 new websites had been announced so far, but said it was confident it would hit its target by the end of the month.

Vaccinating Americans will be key to suppressing the virus and reopening the economy completely. Just over 46 million doses have been given to date, and the administration has pledged to increase daily doses to 1.5 million. Since the pandemic began almost a year ago, more than 27 million Americans have been infected and the country is close to 500,000 deaths.

The lack of adequate supplies across the country has resulted in appointments being canceled, mega-locations closed and first doses stopped to ensure people can get their second shots. The governors have said time and again over the past two weeks that their greatest need is not a new distribution system, just more vaccines.

"It's not necessary in Florida," said Republican Governor Ron DeSantis of the major federal government-sponsored locations. "I would take all that energy and use it to improve the supply of the vaccine."

Some of Biden's biggest proponents are reluctant to add more vaccination centers without significantly increasing vaccines. This includes some Democratic governors who harshly criticized the Trump administration's decision to delegate much of the pandemic response to states.

"Up until now, we've felt that these sites don't have their own vaccine – that's the most important thing, we need more than more ways to spread what we already have," said Tara Lee, Washington spokeswoman Governor Jay Inslee. "If these changes and assignments came with federal locations, it would change our calculations."

Wisconsin Department of Health spokeswoman Elizabeth Goodsitt said the agency is studying how to use the White House's proposed vaccination sites, but added, "Ultimately, we'll need more vaccines in the state to support them."

Other Democrats, including Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear and Illinois Governor J. B. Pritzker, have expressed similar sentiments.

"The moment FEMA says we're going to provide our centers with additional vaccines, we want one," said Beshear.

FEMA officials referred questions about the vaccination site's target to the White House, which called the initial effort a pilot phase, where the government would deliver limited doses directly to vaccination sites.

Jeff Zients, the White House's COVID-19 coordinator, told governors on a conference call this week that the government is continuing to try to get more vaccines into the states. A total of 11 million doses will be shipped to states by next week, an increase of 500,000 from this week.

That's not enough to convince some governors to invite the federal government. Efforts to stop, in part, reflect a seismic shift in the way the pandemic is being handled. The Trump administration left many decisions to the states, but Biden has compared the pandemic response to war efforts that require a much larger federal role.

While this approach is to be welcomed in some places, governors who are used to being in charge want to make sure their states don't lose flexibility in managing vaccine distribution.

Mixed news didn't help either. Officials in New York and Texas said the federal government told them that vaccines distributed at state sites there would not count towards state allocations. This is different from what has been said to other state officials.

Such an assurance would allow Oklahoma to reconsider its decision to abandon plans for the three federally sponsored locations. Bruce Dart, director of the Tulsa City Department of Health, said the state did the right thing when he learned the sites were dependent on the state vaccine allocation.

He said the state is continuing to discuss the future of the program with the federal government. If it could guarantee that the cans would come from a separate federal supply, Dart said, "We'd be the first to say, & # 39; Come on down. & # 39;"

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