It’s Getting Harder to Know If U.S. Vaccine Makers Are Meeting Their Targets

Knowing which vaccines are being supplied in the U.S. is just as important as knowing how many shots are going into arms.

But because of a bifurcated U.S. distribution system, the public is getting less and less detailed information from the federal government on how many doses each vaccine manufacturer is actually delivering. It’s a situation that makes it harder to know if drugmakers are meeting their delivery commitments and also how the federal government is allocating shots.

To understand the U.S. vaccine distribution, you first need to know that it's split into two parts.

The first is state-based. The Department of Health and Human Services each week announces vaccine allocations. States order doses, and they’re shipped out. This has been the biggest part of the system, accounting for 17.6 million of 28 million doses made available this week.

We have great data for this program: Each week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention publishes a file showing how many doses have been allocated to each state and which drug company made them.

The second part is what we call the federal-direct program. These are doses that the U.S. sends directly to pharmacies, federally qualified health centers, kidney-care centers and other locations. These doses make up an increasingly large part of weekly shipments —10.4 million out of 28 million doses made available this week.

There is far less public data here. The White House announces a grand total once a week but doesn’t provide breakdowns of which vaccines are going where, or in what quantities. While the CDC has begun publishing data on how many vaccines are flowing to those channels, it doesn’t provide data on which vaccines are being sent. 

As a result, the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker's supply chart contains an increasingly large category of “unknown” doses — shots that are being delivered to the federal government but without public information on the manufacturer.

It’s Getting Harder to Know If U.S. Vaccine Makers Are Meeting Their Targets

We’ve repeatedly asked HHS for this information, and have been told for several weeks that they’re working on it. We still don't have it.

Getting a complete picture is important for several reasons. It tells us, in near-real-time, if vaccine makers like Pfizer Inc., Moderna Inc. and Johnson & Johnson are meeting their production commitments.

Detailed data on the federal program would also reveal if the U.S. is moving away from its strategy of allocating vaccines largely on a per capita basis to distributing them by demand or need, something that governors and mayors have called for as surpluses build in some places. It would also give us clarity on what the impact will be, and where, from the pause in J&J vaccinations over safety concerns. 

This administration, to its credit, has been increasingly responsive to our vaccine data questions. The CDC has produced more information about how vaccines are used, and has been more transparent about explaining that information.

But data drives accountability. And without knowing how many vaccine doses are being handed over to the U.S. and from which companies, it’s harder to know if the promises made by drugmakers are being met, harder to know how those shots are being allocated, and harder to know where the U.S. vaccine campaign is headed.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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