In early September, when Pfizer’s and Moderna’s vaccine candidates were still in trials, the federal government instructed states to be ready to distribute a coronavirus vaccine by Nov. 1. American Oversight immediately filed public records requests with multiple states seeking vaccine-related communications between federal and state officials. We recently published records from the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services from the late summer and fall, which discuss the government’s initial plans for vaccine distribution and state officials’ reactions to these plans.
The records include communications about proposed vaccine distribution plans from the summer, including a handout from July 6, 2020 that listed three phases of vaccination, with the first phase beginning in October, and noted that the plan would be “constantly changing because it is not yet certain when a vaccine will become available and how it will be distributed to Nevada.”
The next month, Nevada’s immunization program manager, Shannon Bennett, distributed screenshots from a presentation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to state health and National Guard officials. The presentation indicated that vaccine distribution would be limited in the early stages when the vaccine was in low supply, and broad-based inoculations would only occur once there was more availability. Under that stage, labeled “Large Number of Doses Available,” the “large number” was identified as approximately “660M cumulative doses.”
According to recent reporting, confirmed by Pfizer representatives, the Trump administration turned down offers from Pfizer to purchase additional doses of its vaccine, even after interim data was released. The administration has invested in multiple vaccine candidates, and has secured 100 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 200 million doses of the Moderna vaccine. This week, the administration said it had reached a deal with Pfizer for another 100 million doses, to be delivered by the end of June 2021.
The records obtained by American Oversight show that on Aug. 27, the CDC circulated vaccine planning documents, including “actions items for jurisdictions” that called for the creation of “internal planning and coordination teams” and “vaccine implementation committees.” While California has created committees to provide recommendations about vaccine allocation, as of mid-December, the majority of states were still developing plans for phase 1 vaccine distribution.
That same day, CDC Director Robert Redfield sent a letter to governors asking them to assist in expediting permit applications from McKesson Corp., which had been contracted for vaccine distribution, so that hospitals could be prepared to begin vaccinating by Nov. 1. A week later, on Sept. 3, Bennett emailed Gayle Daniels, a CDC employee, saying that Redfield’s letter had caused “a lot of confusion.” “Can you help me understand what will be expected of Nevada?” Bennett asked. “Will there be a distribution site in Nevada?”
The uncertainty apparently continued through the month. On Sept. 17, Teneale Chapton, a public health adviser for Nevada’s immunization program, sent an email to CDC adviser Amanda Bryant, saying, “We were all a bit confused on the call.” She asked several questions, including about how to onboard providers and whether it was allowable to repackage supplies.
Finally, the emails shed light on the administration’s initial plans for Tiberius, a data-tracking platform created with software company Palantir. The administration recently teamed up with Palantir, which has previously come under fire for working with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to track immigrants, to create “HHS Protect,” a hospital data tracking program that has been criticized for problems related to inefficiency and inaccuracy.
In an email on Oct. 2, Bryant relayed information about Tiberius to Bennett and Chapton, describing the tool as “the platform [Operation Warp Speed] will use to compute allocation quantities for each jurisdiction receiving COVID-19 vaccines. If states and territories choose to use Tiberius, their principal use will be to sub-allocate their share of vaccine to providers enrolled in the Federal COVID-19 vaccine program.” On Oct. 5, Bennett attended a working session on Tiberius.
Although Bryant’s description suggested that Tiberius is an opt-in platform and didn’t mention personal information, newer reports have shown that the CDC is requiring states to submit personal data of those who receive the Covid-19 vaccines — a practice that some governors are concerned could endanger undocumented people and have broader privacy implications. The data will be tracked by Tiberius, though the government has said that personal identifiers will be removed before authorities view the data. How these identifiers will be removed remains unclear. As additional vaccines are approved and shipped around the country, American Oversight will continue investigating their distribution and allocation.
Part of Investigation: