Pritzker to feds: Break loose with reserve coronavirus vaccine doses now

Leaders of the federal Operation Warp Speed vaccination effort are sitting on about half the nation’s available supply of doses “for reasons unknown,” according to Pritzker and seven other governors.

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks to reporters after a nurse administered Illinois’ first five Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccinations outside of Chicago to at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in downstate Peoria last month. Pritzker called on the federal government to send reserve doses of the vaccine to states immediately.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks to reporters after a nurse administered Illinois’ first five Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccinations outside of Chicago to at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in downstate Peoria last month. Pritzker called on the federal government to send reserve doses of the vaccine to states immediately.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Gov. J.B. Pritzker joined the leaders of seven other states Thursday in calling on the federal government to start distributing millions of coronavirus vaccine doses currently held on reserve by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

Leaders of the federal Operation Warp Speed vaccination effort are sitting on about half the nation’s available supply of doses “for reasons unknown,” according to an open letter signed by Pritzker and the governors of Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Kansas, New York, Washington and California. 

Meanwhile, the coronavirus is claiming an average of 2,600 lives per day nationwide — including about 113 per day in Illinois — and the unprecedented inoculation campaign has fallen well short of federal goals. 

“In each of our states, vaccine delivery has been much slower than we anticipated, so it is imperative that the federal government distribute the vaccines it is holding on reserve. These vaccines will save millions of Americans from the unnecessary danger and hardship of contracting COVID-19,” Pritzker said in a statement. “Up to now, this vaccine has only been offered to a very specific group of people at very specific locations. Our states are ready to work alongside the federal government to expand vaccine distribution so that we can protect the wellbeing of all our residents, families, small businesses and our economy.” 

The federal government initially aimed to vaccinate 20 million people by the end of 2020, but as of Thursday, it had barely even shipped out that many, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Only 5.9 million people have received shots so far, including about 213,000 in Illinois. 

Pritzker, who has bashed President Donald Trump’s handling of the pandemic for months, previously said the state’s “biggest holdup” is waiting for more doses to arrive.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot has pressed the feds to ramp up distribution as well, saying it would take until 2022 to achieve herd immunity in the city at the shipment current rate. 

“The federal government needs to step up and protect Americans from this terrible virus,” a spokesman for the city’s health department said in an email. “In order for us to bend this curve and return to our normal lives, we need to exponentially increase the vaccines available to cities across our country.”

Read the governors’ letter:

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