US Will Fall Nearly 18 Million Doses Short of Year-End Vaccine Goal, Army General Says

Airman receives a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.
U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Kassidy Peters receives a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, Dec. 29, 2020. (U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Betty R. Chevalier)

Factors ranging from snowstorms and holidays to poor coordination with the states led to the U.S. falling nearly 18 million doses short of its year-end goal of having 20 million Americans vaccinated against COVID-19, the general overseeing the distribution effort said Wednesday.

About 20 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna two-dose vaccines have been produced and are available, and 14 million doses have been delivered to the states, but only about 2.1 million Americans have received the shots, said Gen. Gus Perna, the chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed.

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However, Perna said he expected the administration of shots to increase "exponentially" in the coming weeks through smoother delivery arrangements with the states.

The Pfizer vaccine received emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration Dec. 11, and the Moderna vaccine was approved Dec. 18.

Since then, "We agree that that number is lower than what we hoped for," Moncef Slaoui, the chief OWS science adviser, said of the 2.1 million shots administered.

"We know it should be better," added Slaoui, who joined Perna at a virtual news conference to sum up the year's work at OWS.

Despite the shortfall, Perna said that "everybody should be proud" of what has been achieved in getting the vaccines approved as safe and effective, and in employing the Defense Production Act to ramp up production.

"We've cut through the red tape to make sure all the vaccines provided to Amercians will be free of charge," Perna said. "Every day, I believe the uptake will increase significantly as we go forward."

At a separate Centers for Disease Control news conference, Dr. Nancy Messonier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, gave a different number than Perna for the number of vaccine doses administered: 2.5 million. But she agreed that the work thus far of OWS has been an "extraordinary achievement."

"We need to remember these are new vaccines," she said, also noting that the vaccination program was launched "in the midst of a pandemic surge."

Messonier echoed Perna's optimism on a rapid increase in the number of vaccinations, adding that "we really expect those numbers to increase fast in the next couple of weeks."

Messonier and Dr. Henry Walke, the CDC's COVID-19 Incident Manager, also expressed concerns about new reports of an American in Colorado infected with a new and more easily transmissible strain of the coronavirus that originated in the United Kingdom. That individual is a member of the National Guard, according to reports.

Walke said the CDC was also on the alert for a possible U.S. appearance of another new strain that originated in South Africa, although no such cases have been reported thus far.

"We have no evidence that either of these variants cause more severe disease or increase the risk of death," Walke said, but added he worried that a new type of virus would "put more strain on a heavily burdened system."

Distribution of the vaccine to military installations in the U.S. has been expanding. On Tuesday, officials with both U.S. Forces Korea and U.S. European Command reported that the first doses of the Moderna vaccine were being administered, but did not give any numbers on how many shots were received.

In a statement, EUCOM officials said that the initial round of COVID-19 vaccinations were underway for health care personnel at three Army medical treatment facilities in Bavaria.

Three military medical facilities in the UK also have begun giving vaccinations, and next week military clinics in Italy, Spain, Belgium and Portugal are expected to receive their first vaccine shipments, the statement said.

"Getting everybody immunized allows us to move back to, essentially, a sense of normalcy in terms of how we interact with each other," said Brig. Gen. Mark Thompson, commander of Regional Health Command Europe.

In South Korea, Army Gen. Robert B. "Abe" Abrams, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, was among the first to receive a shot of the Moderna vaccine.

"I strongly encourage all eligible individuals to receive the vaccine," Abrams said in a statement. "While the Moderna vaccine is completely voluntary under an EUA {Emergency Use Authorization], I want you to make an informed decision for you and your family regarding the vaccine."

In South Korea, military and civilian healthcare workers, first responders and the USFK command team started receiving the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine started Tuesday at three medical treatment facilities, officials said.

As of Monday, the Defense Department had reported a total of 104,010 cases of coronavirus and 14 deaths among service members.

Among all DoD-connected personnel, including civilians, contractors and dependents, there have been 159,288 cases and 175 deaths.

As of noon Wednesday, the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center reported that there were more than 19.6 million cases of coronavirus and more than 338,000 deaths in the U.S.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at

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