The White House COVID-19 response team said Friday that severe winter weather across the U.S. caused a "backlog" of 6 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines this week.
Andy Slavitt, the Acting Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said during a briefing Friday that an enormous winter storm that has caused travel issues across the country has slowed the federal government's efforts to distribute vaccines.
Slavitt added that winter weather caused three main issues in the distribution of vaccines: Labor shortages among delivery workers at shipping partners UPS, FedEx and McKesson, road closures that have delayed or prevented deliveries and power outages that have left thousands of vaccination sites shuttered in recent days.
Slavitt later added that UPS, FedEx and McKesson would be making weekend deliveries to certain vaccination sites where possible, and added that he expects the backlog to be resolved in a "matter of days."
At a briefing on Wednesday, response team officials said they would ask state governors to extend hours at vaccination sites that were shuttered due to power outages once they reopened.
The winter weather may have contributed to a slight decrease in the seven-day average of distributed vaccines. Bloomberg reports that the country is distributing an average of 1.6 million doses of vaccine a day — a slight decrease from a 1.7 million average earlier this week.
The announcement came a day after the COVID Tracking Project reported on Thursday that the rolling seven-day average of daily deaths linked to the virus had dipped under 2,000 — the first time the U.S. had averaged less than 2,000 COVID-19 deaths per day since December.
The spread of COVID-19 has been on a steady decline for several weeks. Conditions have improved as Americans have slowed their rate of travel and adopted social distancing measures following several months of heavier travel amid the winter holiday season.
After peaking at an average of nearly a quarter of a million new cases each day in January, daily case rates have been cut by nearly two-thirds. As of Thursday, the COVID Tracking Project reports that the U.S. is averaging about 73,000 new cases a day — a number that still remains historically high for the pandemic.
The briefing also came the same morning that Pfizer submitted data to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that shows its vaccines may be able to be stored at slightly warmer temperatures. If the change is approved by the CDC, it could clear some logistical hurdles for the distribution of the drug.