The first two months of the US’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign saw demand far exceeding available supply, a mismatch that generated widespread frustration. However, the next three months might be about the slow pace of administration leaving millions of available doses on shelves already strained from a massive stockpile of unused inventory.
As of March 4, the three manufacturers granted emergency use authorizations (EUAs) by the Food and Drug Administration—Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson—had made available 109.9 million doses of their COVID-19 vaccines, up 18.2 million from one week earlier. Over that same week, the U.S. administered 14.3 million shots. In other words, the number of unused shots—sitting in freezers or on shelves somewhere in the nation’s vast distribution network—increased by 3.9 million in one week.
The discrepancy between incoming supply and outgoing shots could grow dramatically in the coming weeks if the nation’s vaccination campaign—the complex logistical dance of getting the doses from where they are stored and into the arms of Americans—does not step up the pace. Between now and the end of May, the approved manufacturers have committed to delivering just under 400 million additional vaccines to the U.S. At the current pace of daily vaccinations, a substantial amount of that inventory will be unused for months.
The White House has been appropriately aggressive in pushing the manufacturers to speed up production. Last week, President Biden announced that his administration had worked with Johnson & Johnson to accelerate the delivery of the full 100 million doses purchased by the U.S. government by one month, from June 30 to May 31, and 20 million of the Johnson & Johnson doses are expected to ship in March.