DeSantis says Florida shipments of vaccines are ‘on hold.’ Pfizer disagrees.

‘No shipments containing the vaccine are on hold or delayed,’ the pharmaceutical giant said in a statement Thursday.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks after the first doses of the Pfizer and BioNTech coronavirus vaccine arrived at Tampa General Hospital on Dec. 14.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks after the first doses of the Pfizer and BioNTech coronavirus vaccine arrived at Tampa General Hospital on Dec. 14. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]
Published Dec. 17, 2020|Updated Dec. 18, 2020

TALLAHASSEE — Less than a week into its program to vaccinate millions of residents to protect them from the coronavirus, Florida has hit a potential speed bump.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday that Florida could receive less than the 452,000 doses of the coronavirus vaccine that the state was expecting because of a “production issue” on the part of a vaccine manufacturer. DeSantis said that two shipments of the vaccine slated to be sent to Florida in the coming weeks are “on hold right now.”

On Thursday, Pfizer, the pharmaceutical giant behind the vaccine, put out a statement which contradicted that characterization.

“Pfizer is not having any production issues with our COVID-19 vaccine, and no shipments containing the vaccine are on hold or delayed,” the statement read. “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. We have millions more doses sitting in our warehouse but, as of now, we have not received any shipment instructions for additional doses.”

The contradiction raises questions about the coordination between the private sector and state and federal officials as the United States embarks on an unprecedented campaign of vaccination.

Late Thursday, after this story was initially published, McClatchy DC reported that the federal government is to blame for the confusion. Tiberius, the federal clearinghouse used by the states to monitor vaccine shipments, initially quoted shipment numbers to states using outdated, overestimated figures, an anonymous federal official told McClatchy.

DeSantis’ office did not respond to questions Friday about why the governor blamed Pfizer for the federal government’s apparent mistake.

DeSantis said Tuesday the state was expecting 205,000 doses of the vaccine to be shipped the week of Dec. 21, followed by 247,000 more the week after.

Late last week, Tiberius showed Florida would get zero Pfizer doses in the coming weeks. Earlier this week, the system’s figure was upgraded to show Florida was due for about 120,000 doses later this month. But that is still only about a quarter of what DeSantis had projected Tuesday.

“Those next two weeks shipments of Pfizer are on hold right now,” DeSantis said in West Palm Beach Tuesday. “We don’t know whether we will get any or not.”

Pfizer’s vaccine requires the patient to be injected with two doses taken 21 days apart.

A Pfizer spokeswoman said the company was “continuing to dispatch our orders to the locations specified by the U.S. government.”

Florida is not the only state having issues getting the Pfizer vaccine. Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington tweeted Thursday that the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention informed him that Washington’s vaccine allocation “will be cut by 40 percent next week — and that all states are seeing similar cuts.”

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not respond to requests for comment.

Although Florida began vaccinating residents and health care workers this week — a remarkable breakthrough in the fight against COVID-19 — much about the state’s vaccination plan remains unknown. More than 65,000 doses were distributed to CVS and Walgreens for elder care facilities, according to the Florida Division of Emergency Management. Over the next week, 110 long-term care facilities will be visited by teams that will administer the vaccines. By next week, more than 170 hospitals will receive the Pfizer vaccine for health care workers, the agency said.

Florida was supposed to submit a detailed plan to the federal government about its strategy by Dec. 4, but that plan has not been made public despite numerous requests from news organizations, including the Times/Herald.

Despite the apparent hiccup with Pfizer, Florida will likely be in for hundreds of thousands of more vaccine doses in the coming weeks, DeSantis has said. The state could receive about 367,000 doses of Moderna’s vaccine as soon as next week if the product is authorized for emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. An advisory panel for the agency recommended authorization of the vaccine Thursday.

That vaccine will also require patients to take two doses — 28 days apart.

Miami Herald Reporter Ben Conarck contributed to this story.