A paralyzing winter storm wrought havoc with COVID-19 vaccination efforts around the country on Tuesday, forcing the cancellation of appointments and delaying vaccine deliveries just as the federal government rolled out new mass vaccination sites aimed at reaching hard-hit communities.
FEMA opened its first COVID-19 inoculation sites in Los Angeles and Oakland, part of a broader effort by the Biden administration to get shots into arms more quickly and reach minority communities hit hard by the outbreak.
The developments came as the vaccination drive ramps up. The U.S. is administering an average of nearly 1.7 million doses per day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And the administration said Tuesday it was boosting the amount of vaccine sent to states to 13.5 million doses per week, a 57% increase from when President Joe Biden took office nearly a month ago, as well as doubling to 2 million the weekly doses being sent to pharmacies.
At the same time, coronavirus deaths are down sharply over the past six weeks, and new cases have plummeted.
Snow, ice and bitter cold forced authorities to halt vaccinations from Pennsylvania to Illinois and from Tennessee to Missouri. In snowy Chicago, Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said more than a hundred city vaccine sites didn’t get shipments Tuesday because of the extreme weather, leading to many cancellations.
The Biden administration said the weather was expected to disrupt shipments from a FedEx facility in Memphis and a UPS installation in Louisville, Kentucky. Both serve as vaccine shipping hubs for a number of states.
In Texas, Houston’s Harris County rushed to dispense more than 8,000 doses of Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine after a public health facility lost power early Monday and its backup generator also failed, authorities said. The shots at risk of spoiling if not given out were distributed at three hospitals, the county jail and Rice University.
“It feels amazing. I’m very grateful,” said Harry Golen, a 19-year-old sophomore who waited for nearly four hours with his friends, much of it in the frigid cold, and was among the last people to get the shots — which otherwise wouldn’t have reached students until March or April.
More than 400,000 additional doses due in Texas now won’t arrive until at least Wednesday, officials said.
Geisinger, one of Pennsylvania’s largest health systems, canceled vaccine appointments scheduled for Wednesday and Friday at several locations after the CDC told state health officials that shipments would be delayed because of severe weather.
Vaccine shipments were also delayed in Ohio and in Missouri — where snow, ice and bitter cold forced cancellation of mass inoculation events scheduled for this week.
By the numbers
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 56,834 new COVID-19 cases Monday in the United States, the lowest single-day figure since Oct. 18, before the beginning of the current surge in cases.
Fatality numbers nationally also were down, with 1,217 deaths Monday, the lowest number since Dec. 6. On Sunday and Monday combined, the nation tallied 2,534 deaths, less than the number for Saturday and less than half of the total for Friday.
The nation's seven-day average for single-day case numbers fell to 86,129.
In Pennsylvania, the fatality total was 30 combined for Sunday and Monday.
Pennsylvania's COVID-19 admissions increased slightly, from 2,348 to 2,356, in the last two days. Figures for intensive care admissions and ventilator use continued to improve, with 491 patients in ICU care and 271 on ventilators.
The daily ICU bed availability, over the last two weeks, increased again to an average of 758.4 beds, the highest number since Nov. 29. About 6% of the hospital ventilators in the state are in use, and the 14-day average for ventilator demand fell to 310 Monday.