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Colorado governor says “we were lied to” after federal plans to speed up vaccine didn’t prove up

Colorado was expecting to receive 210,000 coronavirus vaccine doses next week. "Now we find out we’ll only get 79,000 next week," Gov. Jared Polis wrote on Twitter.

A vaccine vial was ready for use as critical staff at the Kaiser Permanente Lone Tree Medical Offices received their first doses of the Moderna vaccine for COVID-19 on Dec. 23, 2020, in Lone Tree. (Kathryn Scott, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Gov. Jared Polis on Friday said he was “shocked” to learn that Colorado will be receiving far fewer doses of coronavirus vaccine next week than anticipated after the Trump administration’s promise to speed up distribution turned out not to be true.

“We were lied to,” Polis said bluntly. He said he was told by U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Vice President Mike Pence that an increase in doses was coming.

The Washington Post reported on Friday that the nation’s vaccine reserves had already been exhausted when the Trump administration vowed to release them and push out more doses.

Polis, a Democrat, says Colorado was expecting to receive 210,000 doses of coronavirus vaccine next week. “Now we find out we’ll only get 79,000 next week,” he wrote on Twitter.

“I’m shocked we were lied to and there is no national reserve,” he added.

Polis said he learned the news during a Friday morning phone call with Army Gen. Gustave Perna, who, as the chief operating officer for the federal government’s Operation Warp Speed, is in charge of logistics of vaccine distribution. He said it won’t alter Colorado’s vaccine distribution timelines because the state was already being conservative in its outlook.

“My guess is it’s gross incompetence,” Polis said. “I’m not going to attribute a motive of vengeance. I’m going to say gross incompetence.”

The state hopes to vaccinate all Coloradans over 70 who want to be innoculated by the end of February.

Colorado had immunized 223,827 with a first dose of coronavirus vaccine through Friday morning. More than 45,000 people had received a second dose.

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Colorado has essentially completed Phase 1a of its vaccination plan — the phase that covers frontline health care workers. While Polis said the federal partnership with drugstore chains CVS and Walgreens to provide vaccinations in nursing homes has moved slower than the state would have liked, he said 203 of the state’s 209 skilled nursing facilities have now received at least first doses of vaccine. Polis said all the state’s nursing homes and long-term care facilities are expected to have received first doses of the vaccine by the end of January, with second doses in those facilities finished by the end of February.

Polis said 40,000 members of the general public age 70 and up have received a first dose of vaccine, and the state has used 242,000 of the roughly 300,000 doses of vaccine it has received so far. Much of the remainder should be used by the end of the weekend, he said, at which point new federal shipments will begin arriving.

Regardless of the presidential administration, Polis said it is crucial for the federal government to give ample notice to states about vaccine shipments. He said he has asked for two-weeks’ notice.

“We can plan and scale to almost any level within two weeks,” Polis said. “One week, we’ll do our best. Now, these big changes in four or five days, very, very difficult.”

The vaccine roll out across the U.S. has been marred by delays. Colorado has been among the leaders in pushing out the inoculation, but it will be several months before all people in the state’s first vaccination tier receive their first doses.

The Trump administration’s plan was to distribute doses of coronavirus vaccine that were being held in reserve to be administered to people who had already received their first inoculation. The Pfizer vaccine must be administered in two doses 21 days apart. The Moderna vaccine must be administered in two doses 28 days apart.

But The Washington Post found that no such reserve actually existed, and thus there aren’t additional doses available for states.

MORE: How many Coloradans need to get vaccinated to reach coronavirus herd immunity? It’s complicated.

Meanwhile, the rapid expansion of COVID-19 vaccinations to senior citizens across the U.S. has led to bottlenecks, system crashes and hard feelings in many states because of overwhelming demand for the shots.

Mississippi’s Health Department stopped taking new appointments the same day it began accepting them because of a “monumental surge” in requests. People had to wait hours to book vaccinations through a state website or a toll-free number Tuesday and Wednesday, and many were booted off the site because of technical problems and had to start over.

In California, counties begged for more coronavirus vaccine to reach millions of their senior citizens. Hospitals in South Carolina ran out of appointment slots within hours. Phone lines were jammed in Georgia.

“It’s chaos,” said New York City resident Joan Jeffri, 76, who had to deal with broken hospital web links and unanswered phone calls before her daughter helped her secure an appointment. “If they want to vaccinate 80% of the population, good luck, if this is the system. We’ll be here in five years.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.