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COVID-19: U.S. death toll nears 400,000 as states scramble to vaccinate

COVID-19: U.S. death toll nears 400,000 as states scramble to vaccinate
COVID-19 vaccine syringes are prepared for outpatients to receive the dose Friday at Corsi Houses in New York City. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 16 (UPI) -- The United States' COVID-19 death toll may reach more than 400,000 before President-elect Joe Biden is inaugurated Wednesday, and states are scrambling to vaccinate as many residents as possible after learning the federal government no longer has a reserve stockpile of vaccines to send them.

According to Johns Hopkins University's COVID-19 tracker Saturday, 393,264 people have died from coronavirus in the United States since the pandemic began.

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Of those, 42,800 died in the first two weeks in 2021, with an average of more than 3,000 per day. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention projects 14,400 more U.S. deaths in the next six days.

The state-by-state vaccine rollout continues to be bumpy, with CDC data showing that as of Friday, 36% of doses -- or 12.1 million out of the 31 million doses that have been distributed to states -- have been administered.

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On Friday, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar revealed that there is no further reserve stockpile of vaccines and blamed "some states' heavy-handed micromanagement of this process" for the vaccine rollout.

Earlier in the week, Azar said the Trump administration was planning to release a strategic reserve of doses it had been holding back for booster shots, but on Friday he said that reserve had already been released.

"We now have enough confidence that our ongoing production will be quality and available to provide the second dose for people, so we're not sitting on a reserve anymore," Azar said. "We've made that available to the states to order."

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Azar also shared his resignation letter on Twitter on Friday, saying he will continue to serve through Wednesday but that last week's riots would tarnish the administration's legacy.

Later on Friday, senior administration officials said the reserve doses were already dedicated to people who had gotten the vaccine. Some governors said the federal government deceived them.

"I am demanding answers from the Trump administration," Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, wrote on Twitter Friday.

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"I am shocked and appalled that they have set an expectation on which they could not deliver, with such grave consequences," she tweeted. "This is a deception on a national scale."

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Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said Friday that the state does not have enough doses of the vaccine to inoculate the state's highest risk residents: those over 65 and those with certain underlying conditions.

"I have 2.1 million of you in line, and they gave us 60,000 [vaccine doses]," Walz said Friday. "I can't go and buy [vaccine doses] somewhere, I can't beg them from somewhere, I can't even have them shipped directly to me."

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Nine states -- North Dakota, West Virginia, South Dakota, Connecticut, Texas, Louisiana, Kentucky, Colorado and Montana -- have managed to administer more than half of the vaccines they've received so far, as has Washington, D.C.

North Dakota and West Virginia lead the pack, having each administered 65% of received doses, with officials attributing the speed to clear communication, strategic planning and strong local partnerships.

"We have made this a top priority. We have set expectations that we are going to get this done, that we are going to save lives and return Colorado to normalcy," Scott Bookman, COVID-19 incident commander for Colorado's health department, said.

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