MADISON, Wis. – With more than 40 million doses of coronavirus vaccines available, U.S. health authorities said they're confident there will be enough for qualified older Americans seeking booster shots and the young children for whom initial vaccines are expected to be approved in the not-too-distant future.
The spike in demand – expected following last week's federal recommendation on booster shots – would be the first significant jump in months. More than 70 million Americans remain unvaccinated despite the enticement of lottery prizes, free food or gifts and pleas from exhausted health care workers as the average number of deaths per day climbed to more than 1,900 in recent weeks.
Federal and state health authorities said current supply and steady production of more doses can easily accommodate those seeking boosters or initial vaccination, avoiding a repeat of the frustratingly slow rollout of COVID-19 vaccines across the country this year.
“I hope that we have the level of interest in the booster ... that we need more vaccines,” Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said Tuesday. “That's simply not where we are today. We have plenty of vaccines.”
Robust supply in the U.S. enabled President Joe Biden last week to promise an additional 500 million of Pfizer's COVID-19 shots to share with the world, doubling the United States' contribution. Aid groups and health organizations have pushed the U.S. and other countries to improve vaccine access in countries where even the most vulnerable people haven't had a shot.
Among the challenges states face is not ordering too many doses and letting them go to waste. Several states with low vaccination rates, including Idaho and Kansas, have reported throwing away thousands of expired doses or are struggling to use vaccines nearing expiration this fall.
While most vaccines can stay on the shelf unopened for months, once a vial is opened the clock starts ticking. Vaccines are only usable six to 12 hours, depending on the manufacturer, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Moderna vaccines come in vials containing 11 to 15 doses. Pfizer vials contain up to six doses and Johnson & Johnson vials five doses.
“We are going to see more doses that go unused over time,” said Wisconsin's health secretary, Karen Timberlake. “They come in multidose files. They don't come in nice, tidy individual single-serving packages.”
State health officials said they have tried to request only what health care providers and pharmacies expect to need from the federal supply.
But U.S. officials – holding out hope that some of the unvaccinated change their minds – are trying to keep enough vaccines in stock so all Americans can get them.
That balancing act is tricky and can lead to consternation around the globe as the U.S. sits on unused vaccines while many countries in places such as Africa can't get enough.
“Somebody sitting in a country with few resources to access vaccines, seeing people in the U.S. able to walk into a pharmacy and get that vaccine and choosing not to, I'm sure that's causing heartache,” said Jen Kates, senior vice president and director of global health and HIV policy for the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Dr. Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, which represents the public health agencies of all 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories, said officials anticipate that on-hand doses of COVID-19 vaccines and manufacturers' ability to supply more will meet needs across the country.
“I think states have tried to plan as if everybody's going to be offered a booster,” he said, suggesting they will be overprepared for the more narrow recommendations issued by the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Restriction lift leads to Norway chaos
HELSINKI – Police in Norway on Sunday reported dozens of disturbances and violent clashes including mass brawls in the Nordic country's big cities after streets, bars, restaurants and nightclubs were filled with people celebrating the end of COVID-19 restrictions that lasted more than a year.
The Norwegian government abruptly announced Friday that most of the remaining coronavirus restrictions would be scrapped beginning Saturday and that life in the nation of 5.3 million would return to normal.
The unexpected announcement by outgoing Prime Minister Erna Solberg to drop coronavirus restrictions the next day took many Norwegians by surprise and led to chaotic scenes in the capital, Oslo, and elsewhere in the country.
“It has been 561 days since we introduced the toughest measures in Norway in peacetime,” Solberg said Friday at a news conference. “Now the time has come to return to a normal daily life.”
Rowdy celebrations by hundreds of citizens across Norway started Saturday afternoon and lasted until the early hours of Sunday. Police said unrest was reported in several places, including in the southern city of Bergen and the central city of Trondheim, but the situation was the worst in Oslo.