Democratic governors from eight states said it was "unconscionable and unacceptable" for the Department of Health and Human Services to hold on to vaccines. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo
Jan. 8 (UPI) -- The Democratic governors of eight states demanded the Health and Human Services Department to release COVID-19 vaccine doses it is holding in reserve.
The United States began its vaccine roll out in the middle of December, but Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said via Twitter Thursday in announcing the demand that the federal government has been holding back upwards of 50% of its vaccine supply for "unknown reasons."
"The failure to distribute these doses to states who request them is unconscionable and unacceptable," the eight governors said in the letter to the department. "We demand that the federal government begin distributing these reserved doses to states immediately."
The letter was signed by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers and Pritzker.
The demand came as the United States, the sickest country to the pandemic, set a record of 3,865 COVID-19-related deaths on Thursday, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller announced in a statement that Operation Warp Speed -- the Trump administration's drive to accelerate the development, manufacture and distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine -- distributed an additional 439,500 doses on Thursday for a total of 20,459,000.
The governors said in the letter that it has been reported the doses were being held back in case of potential manufacturing and distribution issues, but the government has secured hundreds of millions of doses of vaccines that will be delivered by the second quarter of the year.
"These agreements, combined with the expected emergency use authorization of vaccines from Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca later this year, should give you the utmost confidence that the manufacturing pipeline is robust, safe and capable of protecting a majority of the American people in the coming year," they said.
Kelly unveiled Thursday Kansas' inoculation plan, detailing healthcare and pandemic response workers along with residents and patients of long-term care and senior housing facilities will be the first to be vaccinated in phase one.
Phase two consists of seniors, those in congregate settings and high-contact critical workers. Those between the ages of 16 and 64 with severe medical risk and other critical workers are in phase three with those in the same age group but who suffer from other medical risks in phase four. Children and the rest of the population are in stage five.
On Wednesday, Walz said he expects to have enough vaccine by the end of the month to inoculate every healthcare worker and nearly all nursing home residents in Minnesota with the first of the two-dose vaccine by the end of the month.
"We have a long way to go, but there are signs of hope," he said.