News & Politics

Pardon Me. Have You Seen 20 Million Doses of COVID-19 Vaccine?

Pardon Me. Have You Seen 20 Million Doses of COVID-19 Vaccine?
AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

The article on Politico‘s website is headlined, “‘It’s a mess’: Biden’s first 10 days dominated by vaccine mysteries.” Now, everyone loves a mystery. I’m partial to The Hardy Boys and Sherlock Holmes, myself. But the sleuths who work in the White House can’t solve the mystery of the missing 20 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine that were sent to states but have so far been unaccounted for.

This is the president who was going to bring competence back to the White House. Instead, his people have created a clusterfark of gigantic proportions.


After a week on the job, Biden’s team is still trying to locate upwards of 20 million vaccine doses that have been sent to states — a mystery that has hampered plans to speed up the national vaccination effort. They’re searching for new ways to boost production of a vaccine stockpile that they’ve discovered is mostly empty. And they’re nervously eyeing a series of new Covid-19 strains that threaten to derail the response.

“It’s the Mike Tyson quote: ‘Everybody’s got a plan until they get punched in the mouth,’” said one person with knowledge of the vaccine effort who’s not authorized to discuss the work. “They are planning. They are competent. It’s just the weight of everything when you sit down in that chair. It’s heavy.”

Maybe the job is a little bit harder than it looked from the campaign trail. This is especially true when dealing with government bureaucrats. They don’t care who’s president as long as they get to maintain their power and authority. It makes for a complicated mess when eager-beavers in the new administration want to get started implementing all their grandiose plans while the entrenched bureaucrats are on Washington time.

Only a small percentage of those unaccounted for doses — roughly 2 million, two officials said — is due to lags in data reporting, the Biden team believes. That would mean the rest of the crucial supply is boxed away in warehouses, sitting idle in freezers or floating elsewhere in the complex distribution pipeline that runs from the administration to individual states.

That’s a dilemma that predated the Biden team’s arrival, with Biden himself hammering the vaccine rollout’s first weeks under the Trump administration as a “dismal failure.”

Yet the response team underestimated at the outset how difficult it would be to fix.

Any plan initiated by either president would have been beset by organizational problems, bureaucratic red tape, incompetence, and wasted time. In this case, you have 100 million doses of the vaccine being transferred by the federal bureaucracy to 50 state bureaucracies.

What could go wrong?

The Biden administration has since warned that supplies will remain limited until the summer, raising the possibility of ongoing shortages even as the nation’s daily vaccination rate picks up.

The White House cheered promising data on a new single-dose vaccine from Johnson & Johnson on Friday. But production obstacles have dampened expectations for its immediate impact, with one federal official likening the anticipated early flow of shots to “a trickle.”

How long Biden will be able to blame Trump for the mess is unclear. The media will try to cover for him, but the bottom line is that the Biden “plan” to deal with the pandemic fell apart once it hit reality. That probably means it will be well into the fall before we can truly get back to normal.

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