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New York City temporarily closing vaccination sites due to lack of supply from federal government

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New York City has been forced to temporarily close its COVID-19 vaccination hubs due to a lack of supply from the federal government, city officials said Wednesday. Mayor Bill de Blasio warned earlier this week that the city was about to run out of vaccine doses, as its vaccination rate has outpaced its supply.

"We've had to tell 23,000 New Yorkers who had an appointment this week that they will not be able to get that appointment for lack of supply," de Blasio said at a press conference on Wednesday. De Blasio also criticized the strategy of holding back doses to ensure that second doses were administered on time, telling reporters that "If we had the freedom to vaccinate, if we had those second doses free up, we could reach those 23,000 New Yorkers this week. We've got about 65,000 doses that we could put into play right away if we had that freedom."

The city's 15 Department of Health vaccination hubs will close on Thursday, and will remain closed through Sunday. Appointments will be automatically rescheduled exactly one week from their original appointment time, according to city council member Justin Brannan.  

"While this is maddening, it is honest & transparent," Brannan tweeted Wednesday. "There is no point in scheduling more appointments if we don't have vaccines. We don't need the Hunger Games right now."

City council member Mark D. Levine, chair of the health committee, said supply differences among providers will allow "public hospital sites and many private clinics" to continue vaccinating through Friday. "If you haven't received a message that your appointment has been canceled assume it's still on."

The shortage is due to a delay in shipments of Moderna's vaccine, one of two companies granted an emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration to produce and distribute a COVID-19 vaccine, de Blasio said on Wednesday. New York City's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Commissioner Dave Chokshi said over 100,000 doses, 54,200 first doses and 49,200 second doses, are affected. 

"We are disappointed, of course, by the delay in the Moderna vaccine shipments for New York City this week. The information that we have is that Moderna, the manufacturer, they partner with a distributor from the federal government, and it's the distributor that conveyed the delay," Chokshi explained. "We had been expecting to get all of the doses of Moderna for New York City yesterday on Tuesday. And instead, they will be delivered over the course of today and tomorrow."

The first doses of Moderna's vaccine, developed with the National Institutes of Health, left a Tennessee factory one month ago. The doses joined Pfizer's vaccine, shipped out one week prior, and came as a desperately needed boost to the nation's pandemic response. Distribution of the vaccines, however, has not met expectations set by the Trump administration.   

President Trump pledged to vaccinate 20 million Americans by the end of 2020. But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's COVID Data Tracker, on his last night in office —19 days into the new year — just over 16 million people had received their first dose of a vaccine. 

Asked if New York City has considered ordering vaccine directly from the manufacturer, cutting out the federal government as a middle man, de Blasio said that while he is considering "all options," he expects distribution issues to be resolved by the Biden administration. One of the first actions expected from President Biden, who took the oath of office hours after the press conference, is to activate the Defense Production Act to ramp up the national supply of COVID-19 vaccines. 

"We desperately need the vaccine. We're also trying to work really closely with the federal government and state government," de Blasio said. "So, we'll consider all options, but right now I think the best solution is what I think the Biden administration is absolutely committed to, which is expanding supply using the Defense Production Act." He added that "we need the supply expanded in a huge way, and I really believe that's what the Biden administration will do."

Mr. Biden is restructuring the federal government's COVID-19 leadership, with Jeff Zients, a business executive and former Obama administration official who oversaw Biden's COVID-19 team for the presidential transition, as the point man. Zients was named "response coordinator," and will report to the president on vaccine, testing and personal protective equipment production, supply, and distribution. The Biden White House is also bringing back an Obama-era position called the "Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense," which was dispersed into other roles under Trump. 

"I know the Biden administration is going to intensify production," de Blasio said. "I have faith that the weeks ahead, we're going to see a whole different level of production of the vaccine happening."

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