President Biden is pressing for speedier inoculations as well — a case he is expected to make on Friday, when he travels to Kalamazoo, Mich., to visit the manufacturing plant of Pfizer, one of the two manufacturers of federally authorized vaccine.
Federal officials estimate that as many as six million vaccine doses are still being unnecessarily stowed away. Freeing them up could increase the number of doses used by more than 10 percent — significantly stepping up the pace of the nation’s inoculation program at a time when speed is of the essence to save lives, curb disease and head off more contagious variants of the virus. So far, 56 million shots have been administered, and only 12 percent of Americans have received one or more doses.
The idea that doses are sitting in cold storage while millions of people languish on waiting lists has deeply frustrated government officials. The roots of the problem are twofold.
First, when the federal vaccination program for long-term-care facilities began late last year, the C.D.C. based allotments on the number of beds, even though occupancy rates are the lowest in years. According to the American Health Care Association, a trade group, only 68 percent of nursing home beds and 78 percent of assisted living beds are now filled.
Then the C.D.C. doubled that allotment to cover staff. But while four-fifths of long-term-care residents agreed to be vaccinated in the first month of the program, 63 percent of staff members were not given shots, the agency reported. Some of them have since been vaccinated, although it is not clear exactly how many more.
Despite the lack of uptake, the pharmacy chains that administer the program continued tapping their allotments from the federal government. At one point in Virginia, Dr. Avula said, they had used fewer than one in every three doses they had on hand.
As “good, corporate, risk-averse companies,” Clark Mercer, the chief of staff to Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia, said, “if they can draw down, they are going to draw down.”