States to receive initial $3 billion infusion for vaccines

Syringes containing the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine sit in a tray in a vaccination room at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, Calif., Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong) (Jae C. Hong, Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – State and local governments are expected to receive their first infusion of federal money to support vaccination efforts against the coronavirus later this month, providing a potential boost to an effort that has gone slower than expected in some states.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said $3 billion for vaccine efforts should go out to states by Jan. 19, along with $19 billion of additional aid for coronavirus testing and contact tracing. The money comes from congressional legislation passed at the end of last year.

“It’s really coming late in the game, but we're really happy to have that,” said Claire Hannan, executive director of the Association of Immunization Managers.

It will be up to states to decide exactly how to use the money. But the greatest need is for more staffing, followed by improved technology for data systems, Hannan said.

Some state health agencies "do not have the staffing they need to even enter vaccine orders, to complete enrolling providers, to walk providers through their plan and everything they need to be doing," she said. "And then the local health departments don’t have the staffing to hold clinics, to organize clinics, to do all the communication.”

More than 22 million doses of vaccines had been distributed as of Friday, but fewer than 7 million people had received their first dose of the two-dose shots, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Though the vaccination totals may be an undercount because of a lag in reporting, health officials say they are still behind where they had hoped to be and some governors are getting frustrated.

The vaccine money is being distributed among states through a formula that also allots portions to certain large cities and U.S. territories. The allotments range from $5 million for Wyoming, which has less than 600,000 residents, to $357 million for California, which has a population of nearly 40 million.

The money for COVID-19 testing and contact tracing uses a slightly different formula, with amounts ranging from $33 million for Wyoming to $1.7 billion for California. An additional $578 million is earmarked for Los Angeles County, where the population of just over 10 million is more than the state of Michigan.

The federal law leaves it up to states to decide how much, if any, of the vaccine money to pass on to local health departments. That means there could be large differences in how much counties receive, said Adriane Casalotti, chief of government and public affairs at the National Association of County and City Health Officials.

Another round of vaccine funding is likely in the future. The federal law authorized $8.7 billion for coronavirus vaccine distribution and tracking, with at least $4.5 billion set aside for states and localities.