Challenges in U.S. Vaccine Distribution

For months, the Trump administration focused on the dazzling goal of a Covid-19 vaccine. But once the first candidate was approved, federal officials took a hands-off approach, leaving overwhelmed states to manage the vaccine rollout. American Oversight is investigating this lack of federal support and the disparate plans that emerged as a result.

In November 2020, then Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said that 40 million Covid-19 vaccine doses would be available in the United States by the end of the year. Operation Warp Speed officials later amended the goal to 20 million distributed doses. But by the final day of 2020, two weeks after vaccinations began, only around 14 million doses had been distributed. Fewer than 3 million people had been inoculated. 

At the same time, new, more contagious coronavirus variants began to spread, making vaccination efforts even more crucial. To reach widespread immunity by July 2021, the U.S. would need to vaccinate more than 2 million people every day. But the initial rollout, marred by an inefficient system, wasted doses, and racial disparities, fell far short of this goal.

In the first two months, state officials struggled to communicate with federal counterparts, making it difficult to plan logistics like storing vaccines, making appointments, and scheduling inoculations. In December, state health departments were informed that they’d be receiving 20 percent to 40 percent fewer vaccine doses than they had expected, due to federal officials not adjusting for quality-control processes. In January, states expected an increase in vaccine supply after Azar announced that the government would release doses that had been held in reserve. Governors across the country expressed outrage when the Washington Post reported that no reserve existed — Operation Warp Speed had stopped stockpiling second doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in December. 

While struggling to coordinate with the federal government, states have also faced difficulty managing the millions of people who want vaccines. After vaccine eligibility was expanded beyond the first group of health care workers, registrations filled up within minutes, frustrating those who, despite being eligible, remained unable to acquire protection. Limited manufacturing capacity meant that these supply gaps wouldn’t be filled until April 2021.  

And as states reported vaccine shortages in January 2021, federal officials were attempting to determine the whereabouts of more than 20 million doses, many of which officials feared could be  sitting unused in warehouses. Since most Covid-19 vaccines were placed in units that could only store doses for 30 days, millions could go to waste if not used within the appropriate time. 

Amid the confusion, minority populations have been left behind. In early February, just 5 percent of vaccine doses had gone to Black Americans and only 11 percent to Latinos, despite Covid-19’s disproportionate impact on these groups. Two months after the first Covid-19 vaccine was approved, millions of essential workers were still waiting for their inoculations, even though they often have the highest risk of exposure and are disproportionately people of color. Tracking vaccinations in communities of color was also difficult because most states were not publicly reporting racial data on vaccinations.

American Oversight is investigating the federal government’s plans for vaccine distribution. We’re also investigating state plans and have filed requests with officials in Arizona, Oklahoma, Nevada, and Wisconsin seeking communications about vaccine distribution plans. We’ve also filed public records requests with the Florida Division of Emergency Management and the state’s Department of Health seeking communications regarding problems with vaccine access.

Updates

Covid-19 Oversight News: The Delta Variant, Vaccine Challenges, and Covid-Spreading Deportations to Guatemala

June 14, 2021
For the latest news on the pandemic, as well as updates on various oversight investigations, sign up for our weekly Covid-19 Oversight News email.

Covid-19 Oversight News: Vaccine Eligibility, Covid-19 Origins, and New Pandemic Communications

June 1, 2021
For the latest news on the pandemic, as well as updates on various oversight investigations, sign up for our weekly Covid-19 Oversight News email.

Covid-19 Oversight News: New Mask Guidance for Vaccinated Individuals, Scrutiny of Air Purifiers Sold to Schools, and WHO Report on Global Response

May 17, 2021
For the latest news on the pandemic, as well as updates on various oversight investigations, sign up for our weekly Covid-19 Oversight News email.

Covid-19 Oversight News: Airborne Transmission, Vaccine Patents, and State Strategies to Incentivize Vaccinations

May 10, 2021
For the latest news on the pandemic, as well as updates on various oversight investigations, sign up for our weekly Covid-19 Oversight News email.

Covid-19 Oversight News: Updated CDC Guidance, New Federal Oversight Reports, and the Struggle to Reach Herd Immunity

May 3, 2021
For the latest news on the pandemic, as well as updates on various oversight investigations, sign up for our weekly Covid-19 Oversight News email.

Covid-19 Oversight News: Vaccine Hurdles, New Warning from Fauci, and VA Pandemic Response

April 19, 2021
For the latest news on the pandemic, as well as updates on various oversight investigations, sign up for our weekly Covid-19 Oversight News email.

Covid-19 Oversight News: Coronavirus Variants, the Surge in Michigan, and J&J Vaccine Supplies

April 12, 2021
For the latest news on the pandemic, as well as updates on various oversight investigations, sign up for our weekly Covid-19 Oversight News email.

Covid-19 Oversight News: Increasing Case Numbers, Updated CDC Guidance, and the Pandemic in Prisons

April 5, 2021
For the latest news on the pandemic, as well as updates on various oversight investigations, sign up for our weekly Covid-19 Oversight News email.

Covid-19 Oversight News: Reviewing Pandemic Relief Programs and the Vaccine vs. Variant Race

March 29, 2021
For the latest news on the pandemic, as well as updates on various oversight investigations, sign up for our weekly Covid-19 Oversight News email.

Fauci, Walensky, and Top Officials Testify About Federal Pandemic Response

March 19, 2021
Top federal health officials testified before Congress this week, some for the first time, speaking about the current state of vaccine distribution and the federal response to the pandemi

Covid-19 Oversight News: The Pandemic’s Long-Term and Disproportionate Impacts

March 15, 2021
For the latest news on the pandemic, as well as updates on various oversight investigations, sign up for our weekly Covid-19 Oversight News email.

One Year of Covid-19 Oversight

March 3, 2021
A timeline of the pandemic’s first 12 months and our efforts to hold government officials accountable for their handling of the historic public health crisis.

Covid-19 Oversight News: Increases in Vaccine Supply and Inequities in Distribution

March 2, 2021
For the latest news on the pandemic, as well as updates on various oversight investigations, sign up for our weekly Covid-19 Oversight News email.

Investigations Update: Texas Energy Crisis, Covid-19 in Poultry Plants, and New Legislation in Missouri

February 23, 2021
See the latest in our investigations into the recent power outage in Texas, industry influence over the Trump administration’s coronavirus response, and Missouri legislation that protects drivers who hit protesters with their cars.

Covid-19 Oversight News: 500,000 Deaths, Florida Favoritism, and Increased Vaccine Distribution

February 22, 2021
For the latest news on the pandemic, as well as updates on various oversight investigations, sign up for our weekly Covid-19 Oversight News email.

Investigations Update: State Pandemic Responses, Space Command Headquarters Location, and Trump’s Refusal to Concede

February 16, 2021
See the latest in our investigations into the federal pandemic response, Trump’s efforts to overturn the election results, and the decision to put U.S. Space Command headquarters in Alabama.

Covid-19 Oversight News: Updated CDC Guidance, Early Emails About Masks, and New Congressional Requests

February 15, 2021
For the latest news on the pandemic, as well as updates on various oversight investigations, sign up for our weekly Covid-19 Oversight News email.

Investigations Update: Florida Vaccine Distribution, Anti-Protest Measures, and Trump’s Efforts to Overturn Georgia’s Election Results

February 9, 2021
See the latest in our investigations into the coronavirus pandemic response and into officials’ attempts to interfere with democracy.

News Roundup: New Voting-Restriction Bills and the Upcoming Round of Redistricting

February 5, 2021
The anti-democratic forces that fed Trump’s stolen-election lie are at work across the country.

Nevada Health Department Records from Summer and Fall Highlight Confusion over CDC’s Initial Vaccine Instructions

December 23, 2020
Records obtained by American Oversight include communications about proposed vaccine distribution plans and state officials’ reactions to those plans.

Investigations Update: New Kentucky Voter Fraud Task Force Lawsuit, and Our Supreme Court Short List Investigation

September 23, 2020
See the latest in our investigations into Trump’s potential Supreme Court nominees, the CDC’s removal of updated Covid-19 guidelines, and foreign interference in U.S. elections.

Investigations Update: Operation Legend, Crossfire Hurricane, and the Rush for a Coronavirus Vaccine

September 1, 2020
See the latest in our investigations into the Trump administration’s politicized Operation Legend, the rush for school reopenings and a Covid-19 vaccine, and partisan FBI responses to congressional requests.
Show all updates

Related Documents

April 13, 2021

Records Request to Arizona Department of Health for Directives Regarding Vaccine Distribution

Arizona Department of Health Services
FOIA Request
April 13, 2021

Records Request to Arizona Department of Health for Communications Regarding Vaccine Distribution for Non-Citizens

Arizona Department of Health Services
FOIA Request
April 13, 2021

Records Request to Arizona Governor’s Office Seeking Directives Regarding Vaccine Distribution

Arizona Office of the Governor
FOIA Request
April 13, 2021

Records Request to Texas Department of State Health Services for Directives Regarding Vaccine Distribution

Texas Department of State Health Services
FOIA Request
April 13, 2021

Records Request to Texas Department of State Health Services for Communications Regarding Vaccine Distribution for Non-Citizens

Texas Department of State Health Services
FOIA Request
April 13, 2021

Records Request to Texas Governor Seeking Directives Regarding Vaccine Distribution

Texas Office of the Governor
FOIA Request
April 13, 2021

Records Request to Oklahoma State Department of Health Seeking Directives Regarding Vaccine Distribution

Oklahoma State Department of Health
FOIA Request
April 13, 2021

Records Request to Oklahoma State Department of Health Seeking Communications Regarding Vaccine Distribution for Non-Citizens

Oklahoma State Department of Health
FOIA Request
April 13, 2021

Records Request to Oklahoma Governor’s Office Seeking Directives Regarding Vaccine Distribution

Oklahoma Office of the Governor
FOIA Request
February 3, 2021

Records Request to Florida Governor’s Office for Emails with Public and Private Entities Regarding Vaccine Distribution and Access

Florida Office of the Governor
FOIA Request
February 3, 2021

Records Request to Florida DEM for Emails with Public and Private Entities Regarding Vaccine Distribution and Access

Florida Division of Emergency Management
FOIA Request
February 3, 2021

Records Request to Florida DOH for Emails with Public and Private Entities Regarding Vaccine Distribution and Access

Florida Department of Health
FOIA Request
February 3, 2021

Records Request to Florida Governor’s Office for Emails Regarding Problems with Vaccine Distribution and Access

Florida Office of the Governor
FOIA Request
February 3, 2021

Records Request to Florida DEM for Emails Regarding Problems with Vaccine Distribution and Access

Florida Division of Emergency Management
FOIA Request
February 3, 2021

Records Request to Florida DOH for Emails Regarding Problems with Vaccine Distribution and Access

Florida Department of Health
FOIA Request
February 3, 2021

Records Request to Florida Governor’s Office for Records Concerning Executive Order Expanding Covid-19 Vaccine Access to Individuals 65 and Older

Florida Office of the Governor
FOIA Request
February 3, 2021

Records Request to Florida DEM for Records Concerning Executive Order Expanding Covid-19 Vaccine Access to Individuals 65 and Older

Florida Division of Emergency Management
FOIA Request
February 3, 2021

Records Request to Florida DOH for Records Concerning Executive Order Expanding Covid-19 Vaccine Access to Individuals 65 and Older

Florida Department of Health
FOIA Request
February 3, 2021

Records Request to Florida DOH Seeking Covid-19 Vaccine Distribution Guidance

Florida Department of Health
FOIA Request
February 3, 2021

Records Request to Florida DEM Seeking Covid-19 Vaccine Distribution Guidance

Florida Division of Emergency Management
FOIA Request
February 3, 2021

Records Request to Florida DOH Seeking Covid-19 Vaccine Distribution Applications and Approval Decisions

Florida Department of Health
FOIA Request
December 3, 2020

Records Request to Oklahoma Governor Regarding Meeting About Coronavirus Vaccines

Oklahoma Office of the Governor
FOIA Request
November 23, 2020

CDC Records of Presentations from Deloitte Regarding Vaccine Administration Management System from July to October 2020

Department of Health and Human Services, HHS - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Agency Record
November 10, 2020

CDC Records Regarding Orders to DeLoitte for Covid-19 Vaccine Distribution and Tracking

Department of Health and Human Services, HHS - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Agency Record
November 10, 2020

CDC Contract with DeLoitte Consulting LLP Regarding Covid-19 Vaccine Distribution and Tracking

Department of Health and Human Services, HHS - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Agency Record
October 7, 2020

No Records Response from DOD Regarding Directives to McKesson about Vaccine Distribution

Department of Defense
Agency Reply
October 5, 2020

Nevada Department of Health and Human Services Records Concerning Covid-19 Vaccines from August to October 2020

Nevada Department of Health and Human Services
Agency Record
September 22, 2020

FOIA to DOD Seeking Directives to McKesson Regarding Vaccine Distribution

Department of Defense
FOIA Request
September 16, 2020

FOIA to CDC Seeking Copy of Vaccine Distribution and Administration Tracking Contract with DeLoitte

Department of Health and Human Services, HHS - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
FOIA Request
September 16, 2020

FOIA to CDC Seeking Orders to Deloitte Regarding Vaccine Distribution and Administration Tracking

Department of Health and Human Services, HHS - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
FOIA Request
September 16, 2020

FOIA to CDC Seeking Any Assessments from Deloitte Regarding Vaccine Distribution Tracking and Administration

Department of Health and Human Services, HHS - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
FOIA Request
September 16, 2020

FOIA to CDC Seeking Copy of Vaccine Distribution Contract with McKesson

Department of Health and Human Services, HHS - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
FOIA Request
September 16, 2020

FOIA to CDC Seeking Directives to McKesson Regarding Vaccine Distribution

Department of Health and Human Services, HHS - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
FOIA Request
September 16, 2020

FOIA to DOD Seeking Directives to McKesson Regarding Vaccine Distribution

Department of Defense
FOIA Request
September 16, 2020

FOIA to CDC Seeking Orders to McKesson Regarding Vaccine Distribution

Department of Health and Human Services, HHS - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
FOIA Request
September 1, 2020

Public Records Request to Arizona DHS Seeking Emails with Federal Officials Regarding Coronavirus Vaccine Plans

Arizona Department of Health Services
FOIA Request
September 1, 2020

Public Records Request to Nevada DHHS Seeking Emails with Federal Officials Regarding Coronavirus Vaccine

Nevada Department of Health and Human Services
FOIA Request
September 1, 2020

Public Records Request to Wisconsin DHS Seeking Emails with Federal Officials Regarding Coronavirus Vaccine

Wisconsin Department of Health Services
FOIA Request