(AP) - Governors bitterly accused the Trump administration Friday of deceiving the states about the amount of COVID-19 vaccine they can expect to receive as they ramp up vaccinations for senior citizens and others. But the government attributed the anger to confusion and misguided expectations on the part of the states.
Meanwhile, the race between the vaccine and the virus may be about to heat up: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that the new, more infectious variant first seen in Britain will probably become the dominant version in the U.S. by March.
The CDC said the variant is about 50% more contagious than the virus that is causing the bulk of cases in this country.
“We want to sound the alarm,” said Dr. Jay Butler, CDC deputy director for infectious diseases.
The clash over the pace of the government’s COVID-19 vaccine allotments threatens to escalate tensions between the Trump administration and some states over who is responsible for the relatively slow start to the vaccination drive against the scourge that has killed over 390,000 Americans.
Oregon had announced earlier this week that it would expand vaccine eligibility to roughly 760,000 residents 65 and older, as well as teachers and child care providers, because of what it said were promises that the state’s vaccine allotment would be increased.
But Democratic Gov. Kate Brown said those plans are now in disarray because of “deception on a national scale” by the administration.
Via Twitter, Brown said she was told by Gen. Gustave F. Perna, who leads Operation Warp Speed, that states will not be receiving increased shipments of vaccine from the national stockpile next week “because there is no federal reserve of doses.”
As a result of what she called “a cruel joke,” Brown said the state will now postpone vaccination of senior citizens to Feb. 8, instead of Jan. 23, and initially limit it to people 80 and older.
Late Friday, Oregon health officials said a case of the variant had been diagnose in the Portland area in a patient who had no travel history.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, a Democrat, said he was among several governors deceived by federal officials about availability of a strategic supply of doses.
“This one is so far beyond the pale to be almost unimaginable,” he said. “Who’s going to be prosecuted for this? What are the states to do when they’ve been lied to and made all their plans around this?”
Alena Yarmosky, a spokeswoman for Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, said governors were “told explicitly” on Tuesday that they would be provided additional doses. Northam, a Democrat and a doctor, had moved quickly as a result to announce that the state would expand vaccine eligibility.
Now, Northam’s administration is trying to determine whether those additional supplies don’t exist, Yarmosky said.
“What we’re seeing is fully in line with the dysfunction that has characterized the Trump administration’s entire response to COVID-19. President-elect (Joe) Biden cannot be sworn in fast enough,” she said.
Michael Pratt, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said that states may have been confused in their expectations but that there has been no reduction in doses shipped to them.
Biden alluded to the tensions Friday and pledged to communicate better with states so they know how much vaccine will arrive and when.
“Right now we’re hearing that they can’t plan because they don’t know,” he said. “That stops when we’re in office.”
As of Friday, the government had distributed over 31 million doses to states, U.S. territories and major cities. About 12.3 million doses had been administered, according to online tracking by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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Click here for the state's vaccine eligibility tool.