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Mass. Will Receive Fewer Pfizer Vaccine Doses This Month Than Expected

Richard Guarino, Boston Medical Center supply chain operations associate director, wheels a cart containing Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine to the pharmacy. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Richard Guarino, Boston Medical Center supply chain operations associate director, wheels a cart containing Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine to the pharmacy. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Massachusetts is now expecting to receive a little more than 145,000 Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine doses by the end of the year, a roughly 20% decline in the anticipated shipment that top officials on Friday characterized as frustrating but among the expected bumps in the process of rolling out a nationwide vaccination program.

"The vaccine process, much like the pandemic itself, is fast-moving and ever-changing, and we will continue to pivot as necessary," Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders said.

Massachusetts had originally expected 180,000 doses this month of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, and Gov. Charlie Baker said Friday that the state had received word from the federal government that the next few allocations will be smaller than anticipated — 42,900 doses, instead of more than 59,000.

"At this time it's not clear to us why the shipment amounts have been adjusted," he said. "We're certainly frustrated that we won't be receiving the amount that we expected in the first wave, and we're working to get clarity on what this means why it happens and how that bump will be dealt with along the way."

Overall, Baker said, he expects "that we'll probably end up receiving every bit as much as we were expecting to receive, even if the deadlines and the transactions early on tend to be a little different." He said he expects to learn more on a call next week with federal officials.

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Pfizer released a statement Thursday saying the company "is not having any production issues with our COVID-19 vaccine, and no shipments containing the vaccine are on hold or delayed."

"This week, we successfully shipped all 2.9 million doses that we were asked to ship by the U.S. Government to the locations specified by them," the statement said. "We have millions more doses sitting in our warehouse but, as of now, we have not received any shipment instructions for additional doses."

Under the state's phased vaccination plan, health care and non-clinical workers involved in COVID-19 care and response work make up the first priority group designated to receive the shots.

Long-term care centers come next, and Baker said CVS and Walgreens will begin vaccinating in those facilities the week of Dec. 28, in a partnership with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The doses used in that effort will come from the state's second Pfizer allocation, he said.

First responders, the third group, can expect to begin receiving information about where to get their vaccines on the state's website and from their employers "in the next few weeks," Sudders said.

She said state officials have been "scouting out" locations and working with health care providers to set up mass vaccination sites, with the goal of launching the first ones in January, and first responders will be able to use those sites.

Pending emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, Massachusetts expects to start receiving shipments of the vaccine developed by Cambridge-based Moderna early next week, according to Baker. He said the state ordered 120,000 first doses of the Moderna shots.

Bloomberg News reported Thursday that Moderna had discarded 400,000 doses of its vaccine because of a filtration issue, describing the loss as "somewhat of a drop in the bucket for Moderna's overarching objective of producing 500 million to 1 billion doses in 2021" and saying the company remains on track to meet its production goal of 20 million doses this month.

The first 59,475 doses of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines were distributed to Massachusetts hospitals this week, Baker said, with four hospitals receiving shipments Monday and 17 hospitals on Tuesday. The state public health lab on Wednesday received 19,050 doses and started shipping those out to 10 smaller hospitals, and more distributions are planned throughout the weekend, Baker said.

He said hospitals are reporting "overwhelming acceptance" from doctors, nurses and other workers who are eligible to be vaccinated in this first round.

So far, more than 6,200 vaccinations have been administered across Massachusetts, Baker said. He said the first health care staff vaccination was at Tufts Medical Center. That initial wave also includes the first state employee to be vaccinated — Sophal "Paula" Soth, a janitorial supervisor at Lemuel Shattuck Hospital, who got the shot Friday morning.

"The doctors, nurses and medical workers receiving these first doses are also the same people who, as we all know, have been battling COVID and caring for our residents since this all began," Baker said. "We think it's great that they are among the first to receive the vaccine. It not only protects them but it also protects the people that they take care of, it protects their families, and it's a huge step toward getting back to something a little more normal."

This article was originally published on December 18, 2020.

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