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Polis “shocked we were lied to” following report that promised COVID-19 vaccine stockpile doesn’t exist

Washington Post reports vaccine reserve already had been sent when Trump administration announced plans to use it

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis makes a point about the state’s efforts to stop the spread of the coronavirus at a news conference Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, in Denver.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis makes a point about the state’s efforts to stop the spread of the coronavirus at a news conference Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, in Denver.
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Colorado Gov. Jared Polis on Friday accused the federal government of lying and acting out of “gross incompetence” after learning that an expected increase in COVID-19 vaccine doses won’t be coming because the federal stockpile already had been used up.

“We were ready to deploy it right away, and now we know it simply doesn’t exist,” he said at a news conference Friday afternoon.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced earlier this week that the federal government would stop holding back doses in reserve. The idea of a reserve was to ensure that every person who got a first dose could get the second one required to complete the vaccine sequence in three to four weeks.

Some raised concerns that eliminating the stockpile could leave recipients with only partial protection if logistical problems arose, but governors — including Polis — greeted the news warmly and planned to speed up distribution to older residents.

But the Trump administration had stopped holding back doses in December, meaning there was no stockpile to send out when Azar made the announcement, The Washington Post reported.

Polis said he learned the stockpile was gone Friday morning, during a call with Gen. Gustave Perna, who is in charge of federal vaccine distribution through Operation Warp Speed. He said he didn’t blame Perna, and thought other officials in the outgoing Trump administration were acting out of “gross incompetence” rather than malice.

“I’m shocked we were lied to and there is no national reserve,” Polis wrote on Twitter prior to Friday’s news conference. “Federal announcements that 2nd dose being held in reserve was going to be released led us to expect 210,000 doses next week, other Govs made similar plans. Now we find out we’ll only get 79,000 next week.”

Vaccinations should continue at their current pace, with second shots available for everyone, as long as manufacturers Pfizer and Moderna don’t run into a supply chain problem. But the news blows up governors’ plans to dramatically ramp up the pace of distribution.

On Wednesday, Polis told The Denver Post that the state’s share of available doses could increase from about 70,000 per week to 140,000 for the next three to four weeks, or the state could receive more than 200,000 in a single week before returning to normal levels.

As is, the state is expected to receive 77,950 doses next week, and probably will get a similar amount in the last week of January, Polis said. The supply might increase in February, he said, but states don’t get hard numbers until the week before a shipment arrives.

Colorado is still on track to vaccinate 70% of those who are 70 or older by the end of February, Polis said, but won’t be able to accelerate that timeline without the extra doses.

The state reports 239,615 people had received their first dose as of midnight Thursday, and 48,008 had received both doses. According to the Associated Press, at least 4.7% of Colorado’s population has received the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

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.

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.

But 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.

Pratt said doses that were being held in reserve to provide second shots were released last week. It’s unclear, however, if they all shipped prior to the Trump administration’s announcement early this week that states should open up vaccination to more people. He said states are getting the required second doses they need and the number of first doses is stable.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.