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Washington’s next Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine shipment will be significantly lower than expected, but hope grows for Moderna

Sandra Lindsay, left, a nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, is inoculated with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine Monday in New York.  (Mark Lennihan)

There will be less Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to go around in the coming weeks after federal agencies contacted the state health department to let them know to expect fewer doses next week.

Next week, instead of receiving 74,100 doses of the Pfizer vaccine as initially planned, the department now expects to receive 44,850 doses. The Department of Health was not given any reason for the reduction in doses.

The reduction could mean about 29,000 health care workers won’t be able to be vaccinated next week as initially planned. The Pfizer vaccine is a two-dose vaccine with 21 days between doses. The initial doses account for the first of two necessary doses for health care workers and residents in long-term care facilities.

More than 1,000 high-risk health care workers in Washington have been vaccinated for the novel coronavirus this week.

The news comes alongside some that’s more positive : that vials of the Pfizer vaccine may contain enough material for additional doses than previously thought. Each vial was thought to contain enough material for five doses, but in some cases, six or seven doses can come from each vial. This might expand the number of vaccinations possible from the first doses the state received this week.

This week, the state received 31,200 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and expects to get an additional 29,250 doses later this week. These doses will be delivered to a total of 39 sites covering 29 counties. Additionally, 1,950 total doses will go to three tribes or urban tribal health programs this week.

Gov. Jay Inslee, who tweeted Thursday morning he was frustrated with the questions about the number of vaccine doses coming to the state, referred to the situation that afternoon as a “communication glitch” and a “hiccup” in the system.

“There has been no explanation officially whatsoever,” Inslee said during a news conference to introduce his 2021-23 budget. “I can’t posit an explanation.”

He believes it’s a problem of communication between two government agencies, not a problem with production at Pfizer.

Washington Health Secretary John Wiesman, who was part of the press conference, said the state is expecting its full shipment of 62,400 doses this week, but the reduction for next week is about 40% of what was expected.

“We don’t fully understand this issue,” Wiesman said, adding the state Health Department was closely following it and “prepared to receive whatever vaccine arrives.”

On Thursday, the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee voted to approve the Moderna vaccine for emergency use, clearing the way for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to grant it emergency use authorization in the coming days.

The Moderna vaccine is a two-dose vaccine taken 28 days apart; however, unlike the Pfizer vaccine, it does not have to be stored at ultra-cold temperatures, enabling many hospitals without the proper storage capacity to receive it.

The state is scheduled to receive 128,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine next week after it’s approved, Wiesman said.

New cases up 575

The Spokane Regional Health District confirmed 575 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, the second-highest daily count during the pandemic. The peaks and valleys of recent numbers are still averaging relatively high totals, and Thursday’s daily case count does not include any cases from Airway Heights Corrections Center, Kelli Hawkins public information officer at the district said. Airway Heights Corrections Center has a large outbreak, where 1,047 people incarcerated have tested positive, in addition to more than 100 staff members.

Three more Spokane County residents died from the virus, and there have been 317 deaths due to the virus locally. There are 122 patients hospitalized in Spokane hospitals, and 88 of them are county residents.

The Panhandle Health District confirmed 196 new cases on Thursday, as hospitalizations there continue to challenge Kootenai Health. There are 84 Panhandle residents hospitalized, and 77 of them are at Kootenai Health. Another person died from the virus in the Panhandle, bringing the total number of deaths there to 146.

S-R Reporter Jim Camden contributed to this story.

Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is primarily funded by the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund, with additional support from Report for America and members of the Spokane community. These stories can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.