Vaccine rollout falls on cash-strapped states

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Vaccine rollout hits cash-short states

A Covid-19 vaccine could be just weeks away, with Pfizer and BioNTech reporting their shot appears to work in trials of tens of thousands of people.

While the world celebrates, public-health officials across the U.S. are planning how to get vaccines into the arms of millions of Americans. It's no small feat, and it probably won't be cheap.

"We absolutely need more from the federal government," said Sarah Leeds, Idaho's immunization program manager.

States are already stretched from responding to coronavirus outbreaks and taking revenue hits from stay-at-home orders. Much of the burden of vaccinating against Covid-19 will fall on their shoulders, too, with few answers on how much they can expect from Washington—and when.

Federal dollars have helped bolster some of the planning. Further stimulus talks have stalled since the summer. President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to invest $25 billion in manufacturing and distributing vaccines. Still, movement on either side is far from certain, posing the risk that more help may not arrive until a distribution campaign is well underway.

President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to invest $25 billion in manufacturing and distributing vaccines. 

Photographer: Joe Raedle/Getty Images North America

In interviews and emails last month, many state health officials said they would likely need additional funds to distribute the vaccine. Pfizer's vaccine, likely to be the first, creates additional costly logistics: It needs to be stored at temperatures colder than most freezers can accommodate and it will be shipped in quantities of no less than 1,000 doses at first.

In hard-hit North Dakota, that means buying gloves to handle dry ice and preparing to break apart shipments to send vaccines across the state. Those expenses vary by state, and it's hard to know how much it will all cost.

Of 40 plans that Bloomberg News obtained, only Virginia provided an estimated price tag: $120 million for mass vaccination clinics, equipment and other expenses. The state has received about $5.4 million of federal funds geared toward the planning effort and $22 million from its own coffers.

Big budget holes could grow across the nation, possibly tripping up the effort.—Angelica LaVito

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