Winter storm could threaten COVID vaccine deliveries

Rural Georgia faces major obstacles to access to the COVID-19 vaccine. Officials say they’ve been left in the dark for weeks about answers to even their most basic questions about preparations. Some Georgia counties have no hospitals and in others patients might have to drive 30 minutes or more to get to a pharmacy or see a doctor. It’s not just their remote locations that put rural areas at a disadvantage. Many can’t afford the ultra-cold refrigeration units, at $10,000 to $15,000 a pop, needed to store supplies of the Pfizer vaccine for up to six months. And a survey last month of free and charitable clinics in 15 states including Georgia showed many of the providers are anticipating the same lack of resources they experienced in the early months of the pandemic

A major winter storm this week may impact the delivery of the first coronavirus vaccines throughout the nation.

“Mother Nature is getting off to a fast start with multiple areas of winter weather forecast to impact parts of the United States through Thursday,” the National Weather Service said Tuesday morning. The storm is forecast to bring heavy snow and areas of freezing rain to the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast beginning on Wednesday. There is also the chance of potentially heavy snow to hit the central Plains on Tuesday.

As of Tuesday morning, 45 million people were under a winter storm watch that is forecast to strike most of the East Coast on Wednesday into Thursday. New York City could get a foot of snow this week.

While shipping giant FedEx told CNN it doesn’t expect any “significant impact,” a spokesperson said “we have a team of 15 meteorologists monitoring conditions 24/7, and we have contingency plans in place should we see any severe weather.”

Operation Warp Speed’s Gen. Gustave Perna said Monday his group plans for many different issues, with the worst-case scenario being an accident of a delivery vehicle or aircraft. Bad weather falls in the middle of the spectrum of problems, he said.

Hundreds more U.S. hospitals will begin vaccinating their workers Tuesday as federal health officials review a second COVID-19 shot needed to boost the nation’s largest vaccination campaign.

Packed in dry ice to stay at ultra-frozen temperatures, shipments of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine are set to arrive at 400 additional hospitals and other distribution sites, one day after the nation’s death toll surpassed 300,000. The first 3 million shots are being strictly rationed to frontline health workers and elder-care patients, with hundreds of millions more shots needed over the coming months to protect most Americans.

The Food and Drug Administration is set to publish its analysis of a second rigorously studied COVID-19 vaccine, which could soon join Pfizer-BioNTech’s in the fight against the pandemic. If FDA advisers give it a positive recommendation Thursday, the agency could greenlight the vaccine from drugmaker Moderna later this week.

Vaccinations were also expected to kick off Tuesday in New Jersey, which is dividing some 76,000 doses among health workers and nursing home residents. The federal government is coordinating the massive delivery operation by private shipping and distribution companies based on locations chosen by state governors.

Following another initial set of deliveries Wednesday, officials with the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed in Washington said they will begin moving 580 more shipments through the weekend.

“We’re starting our drumbeat of continuous execution of vaccine as it is available,” Perna said Monday. “We package, and we deliver. It is a constant flow of available vaccine.”

Shots for nursing home residents won’t begin in most states until next Monday, when some 1,100 facilities are set to begin vaccinations.

Perna and other U.S. officials reiterated their projection that 20 million Americans will be able to get their first shots by the end of December — and 30 million more in January.