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Did 20 Million COVID-19 Vaccine Doses ‘Go Missing’?

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Around 20 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines remained unaccounted for as recently as January 2021.

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Online speculation around former presidential advisor Jared Kushner swirled on social media after stories appeared about ongoing problems facing United States President Joe Biden’s administration as it continued fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, now in its second year.

“The Biden administration has now confirmed that 20 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine are ‘missing,'” one Twitter account posted. “Several weeks ago I said there was something fishy about the federal vaccine supply being less than expected. And I suggested we look to Jared for answers. I repeat this.”

The figure itself was first reported by Politico a day earlier, citing “people with knowledge” of the new administration’s team in charge of addressing the pandemic, which has killed hundreds of thousands people in the U.S. alone, and millions worldwide.

According to the story:

Biden’s team is still trying to get a firm grasp on the whereabouts of more than 20 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine that the federal government bought and distributed to states but has yet to record as being administered to patients.

Only a small percentage of those unaccounted for doses — roughly 2 million, two officials said — is due to lags in data reporting, the Biden team believes. That would mean the rest of the crucial supply is boxed away in warehouses, sitting idle in freezers or floating elsewhere in the complex distribution pipeline that runs from the administration to individual states.

The Politico story corroborated a Daily Beast report published on January 25 2021, which said that members of Biden’s COVID-19 task force were confronted with a lack of data as they tried to establish not just how many doses of the vaccine had been produced before he took office, but where they were sent:

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 41.4 million doses have been handed out to the states. Only 21.8 million have been administered. Officials say they think there is a vaccine surplus, although how large of one is unclear. Bottom line: Doses should be flowing, they said But instead, states are complaining of vaccine shortages.

The White House Press Office referred us to comments by Andy Slavitt, senior advisor for the president’s COVID-19 task force at a briefing on February 1 2021. Slavitt said that 50 million doses had been delivered to states while 31 million doses had been administered around the country — effectively leaving a discrepancy of 19 million doses (slightly better news than the 20 million figure mentioned in the initial tweet.)

“When the rollout of the vaccine first began in December and early January, it is no secret the program got off to a slow start,” Slavitt said:

This slow start obviously caused a delay in people getting their first doses. But not only did this delay first doses, it created a backlog of second doses that have been sitting in states, waiting for the three- to four-week period to pass before they can be administered.

Slavitt did not mention Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, or his administration. (Politico had reported that Biden’s team “made a concerted effort not to heap blame” on Trump.)

But Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor, has drawn criticism for his own involvement in Trump’s response to the disease’s spread. In April 2020, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) website was altered after Kushner misrepresented the function of the Strategic National Stockpile in providing states with necessary medical equipment to fight the pandemic.

“The notion of the federal stockpile was it’s supposed to be our stockpile,” Kushner said at the time. “It’s not supposed to be state’s stockpiles that they then use. We’re encouraging the states to make sure that they’re assessing the needs, they’re getting the data from their local situations and then filling it with the supplies that we’ve given them. ”

A spokesperson for Trump’s HHS later claimed that a change in the website saying that the stockpile’s role was “to supplement state and local supplies” had already been planned prior to Kushner’s remark.

That June, Democratic Senators Richard Blumenthal, current Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and Elizabeth Warren published a statement denouncing Kushner and his role in the Trump administration’s response.

“Cronyism and incompetence seemingly led this taxpayer-funded boondoggle to tragically misallocate scarce medical supplies and PPE,” Blumenthal said.

Jared Kushner’s pet Airbridge project was a ‘bridge to nowhere’ for health providers most in need. Our investigation shows how secrecy and lies were Airbridge hallmarks, following faithfully the Trump model for pandemic response. This investigation’s alarming revelations should spur an in depth, detailed inquiry — and action — by the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee.

According to a December 2020 story in the Washington PostKushner quickly found himself in over his head while attempting to implement a plan where retail chains like Walgreens and CVS, among others, would host drive-up testing sites:

At a time when health care workers were using garbage bags as gowns and reusing N95 masks because of severe shortages, roughly 30 percent of “key supplies,” including masks, in the national stockpile of emergency medical equipment went toward Kushner’s testing effort, according to an internal March planning document obtained by the Post and confirmed by one current and one former administration official.

Though Kushner had initially promised thousands of testing sites, only 78 materialized, the document said, and the national stockpile was used to supply more than half of those.

“The knock against Jared has always been that he’s a dilettante who will dabble in this and dabble in that without doing the homework or really engaging in a long-term, sustained, committed way, but will be there to claim credit if things go well and disappear if things go poorly,” an unidentified ex-official within that administration told the newspaper. “And this is another example of that.”