By Peter Szekely
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Scattered vaccine shortages cropped up on the front lines of the U.S. battle against the coronavirus pandemic on Friday, prompting at least one large healthcare system to cancel a slew of appointments of people hoping to be inoculated.
The supply-chain blips arose as the country struggles to speed up the pace of vaccinations, which totaled 12.3 million, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In New York, the country's most populous city, Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city has vaccinated about 300,000 of its more than 8 million residents, but was on course to run dry next week because it was burning through vaccines faster than they were being replenished.
"We've been getting resupply right now at a very paltry level of about 100,000 doses a week," de Blasio said on WNYC radio. "We went through 125,000 in the first four days of this week, and our numbers are increasing every day."
De Blasio has said the city would be on track to meet its goal of vaccinating 1 million New Yorkers by the end of January if it is able to get supplies.
"If there's no supply, we're going to have to freeze the appointment system," he said.
"That would be insane after all the progress has been made."
De Blasio, who said vaccine supplies should be allocated to localities commensurate with their ability to administer them, was among three dozen big city mayors who have asked the incoming Biden administration to send COVID-19 vaccine shipments directly to them, bypassing state governments.
At least one New York City healthcare system canceled vaccination appointments and another suspended new ones. A Mount Sinai Hospital spokeswoman said "sudden changes in vaccine supply" forced it to cancel appointments through next Tuesday.
While NYU Langone Health was not cancelling appointments, it said it would not accept new ones, "unless we have a confirmed dose in hand or know it will be received by the time of the appointment," spokeswoman Kate Malenczak said.
Since the onset of the pandemic, the virus has infected 23.1 million Americans, about 7% of the population, killing 388,467 of them, according to a Reuters tally.
The pace of new cases has risen since December to 235,766 per day on a seven-day average, while an average of 3,332 people are dying daily in what one model projects as the country's deadliest month.
In one encouraging sign, the number of COVID-19 patients sick enough to be hospitalized has leveled off in the past two weeks, with 128,612 reported on Thursday.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo blamed the supply gaps on the federal government, which he said had cut supplies this week to 250,000 doses from 300,000, while expanding the eligibility to include 7 million of the state's 19 million residents.
"They increased the eligibility, they did not increase the supply," Cuomo said at a briefing.
Cuomo disputed de Blasio's prediction that the city would run out of doses, but acknowledged the city would sustain a cut proportionate to the overall state cut. According to the CDC, however, New York state has administered only about 757,000 doses of the 1.9 million it has received.
In Oregon, Governor Kate Brown said a federal official told her the state would not receive additional vaccine supplies because the federal government has none in reserve.
"I am demanding answers from the Trump administration," Brown said on Twitter. "I am shocked and appalled that they have set an expectation on which they could not deliver, with such grave consequences."
Brown's comments followed a report in The Washington Post that the federal government has no remaining reserve of the two approved vaccines, one by Pfizer Inc and partner BioNTech and a second from Moderna Inc, which has emergency use authorization.
Citing unidentified officials, the Post said the reserve, which the government said was initially set aside for the second doses that each vaccine requires, had already been distributed starting in late December.
Earlier this week, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said the federal government would begin distributing the reserve to states, a position also taken by the Biden administration, which takes over on Jan. 20.
(Reporting by Peter Szekely; Additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg in Maplewood, New Jersey, Rebecca Spalding in New York and Anurag Maan in Bangalore)