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Watchdog 'Deeply Troubled' By Gaps In Feds' Vaccine Rollout

By Al Barbarino · January 28, 2021, 5:22 PM EST

The Government Accountability Office is "deeply troubled" by the federal government's progress in addressing what it called "critical gaps" in the COVID-19 supply chain, including the lagging rollout of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, according to a report published by the watchdog Thursday.

The GAO, which said it completed its audit work for the report on Jan. 15, prior to the inauguration of President Joe Biden, pushed for federal leadership to coordinate vaccine distribution.

"Vaccine implementation requires federal leadership and coordination among federal agencies and key partners, including commercial entities, jurisdictions, and providers to allocate, distribute, and ultimately administer vaccines to individuals across the country," according to the report.

Among its recommendations, the GAO reiterated an earlier suggestion for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, "with the support of the Defense Department," to create and share a national plan to ramp up vaccinations through better coordination across federal agencies and nonfederal entities.

The FDA approved Pfizer's vaccine for emergency use in individuals 16 years and older on Dec. 11, followed by Moderna's vaccine for individuals 18 years and older on Dec. 18.

Trump administration officials had publicly stated a goal to vaccinate 20 million Americans by year-end, but it was clear they "fell short of expectations" when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that just 12.4 million doses had been shipped and 2.8 million initial doses administered as of Dec. 30.

As of Jan. 14, roughly 30.6 million doses had been distributed and 11.1 million doses administered, according to CDC data.

Biden has announced his own goals to address the gaps, including administering 100 million vaccine shots within his first 100 days on the job.

In a statement Tuesday, Biden said the administration will increase overall weekly vaccination distribution to states, tribes, and territories from 8.6 million doses to a minimum of 10 million doses starting next week.

He also pledged increased transparency regarding supply, including ensuring that states, tribes and territories have a "reliable" three-week advance forecast of the supplies coming their way.

The GAO first recommended that HHS craft the formal rollout plan in September 2020, when the watchdog had stressed the "importance of having a plan that focused on coordination and communication," and that would establish a "time frame for documenting and sharing" the national plan, the report stated.

That watchdog also lamented that HHS had yet to issue "a comprehensive and publicly available national testing strategy."

The GAO allows government agencies to respond to the findings of its reports prior to their publication. In a letter dated Jan. 8, HHS said it "generally concurs" with the GAO recommendation for a national vaccine rollout plan.

"The administration and HHS continue to build on the supply chain management system created in response to [COVID-19]," the agency said in the letter. "This includes expanding the already robust information and monitoring system needed to continually assess and manage these different inventories, anticipate shortages, and provide the opportunity to prevent or mitigate supply chain disruptions."

U.S. Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, a Democrat from Mississippi and chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, used the GAO report to take a jab at the Trump administration while expressing optimism for Biden's efforts to ramp up the response.

"This report confirms what we already knew: the Trump administration failed to take any meaningful action to improve the federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic during its final months," Thompson said in a statement Thursday.

"I'm encouraged that President Biden has already released a national strategy to improve the federal response effort — and is using the full force of the federal government to enact it," he added. "It's tragic it has taken a year and over 400,000 American lives lost for the federal government to take substantive action to take this pandemic seriously."

--Editing by Marygrace Murphy.

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