Sorry about that vaccine snafu


United States Army General Gustave Perna is the man who was put in charge of Operation Warp Speed and coordinating the shipments of COVID vaccines around the nation this month. The process in the early going has not been entirely smooth, however. Some states are winding up receiving considerably fewer doses than anticipated for a variety of reasons and complaints have been coming from the governors of some of those states. In Michigan, for example, they’re going to be getting nearly 25,000 fewer doses in the first shipment than had been anticipated. This led Governor Gretchen Whitmer to quickly politicize the situation and accuse the President of “slow-walking” the distribution.

For his part, General Perna did something you rarely see when dealing with politicians, as opposed to military professionals. He went on camera, stepped up to the microphone, and took full and complete responsibility for the shortfalls. And he did this despite the fact that he probably bears almost no personal responsibility for the inaccurate projections. (Associated Press)

The Army general in charge of getting COVID-19 vaccines across the United States apologized on Saturday for “miscommunication” with states over the number of doses to be delivered in the early stages of distribution.

“I failed. I’m adjusting. I am fixing and we will move forward from there,” Gen. Gustave Perna told reporters in a telephone briefing…

Perna acknowledged the criticism and accepted blame.

“I want to take personal responsibility for the miscommunication,” he said. “I know that’s not done much these days. But I am responsible. … This is a Herculean effort and we are not perfect.”

If I still fit in my old Navy uniform I would stand and offer the General a salute for this sort of accountability. It’s certainly refreshing. But as I mentioned above, it’s highly unlikely that Perna is actually at fault in this situation. He made the estimates that were initially released based on data he received from Pfizer and Moderna. They were the ones who were calculating how many doses could be manufactured in a given period of time. But for a variety of reasons, when the time came for the trucks to begin rolling, there weren’t as many as expected.

We probably shouldn’t be coming down too hard on the manufacturers, either. We should bear in mind that these are brand new vaccines and they were only given initial approval to move into mass production in the last couple of weeks. The fact that Pfizer is putting 20 million doses out the door this fast is something of a miracle in itself. Moderna is anticipated to deliver similar numbers in the coming days.

More confusion arose over the issue of “bonus doses” in some shipments of vaccine vials, though that’s been tending to produce errors in the other (better) direction. The vials are listed as containing five doses each, but in reality, there’s enough vaccine in them for six or even seven vaccinations. But there are complications involved in using those extra doses. The FDA says that the pharmaceutical companies put in the extra vaccine “by design” to account for differences in various types of syringes. For the time being, the FDA has authorized the use of the extra doses as long as there’s enough fluid for a full dose.

Returning to the original topic, this question of “bonus doses” is also not General Perna’s fault. He is neither a doctor nor a pharmaceutical expert. He comes from the Army Material Command. How was he supposed to know about this? The bottom line is that the vaccines are rolling out the door. As I was writing this article on Sunday morning, the cable news shows were broadcasting coverage of the Moderna trucks being loaded and getting ready to hit the road. The General is splitting up the shipments in accordance with the original schedule as best he can. Let’s all just hang in there and wait a while longer. The finish line is in sight, no matter what the nanny state naysayers are trying to tell you.

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