On February 2, the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight Investigations held a hearing entitled, “No Time to Lose: Solutions to Increase COVID-19 Vaccinations in the States.” Witnesses included directors of state departments of health and those leading the coronavirus response at the state level. The hearing, which focused on accelerating the vaccine rollout, revolved around several key issues state and local health officials have identified as obstacles in the distribution process. These concerns include a lack of additional federal funding and problems with the vaccine allocation process. While the hearing spotlighted the state perspective, it provided key insights into issues counties should be aware of as they continue to lead vaccine distribution efforts at the local level.
The witnesses called on Congress to provide additional federal funding to help accelerate vaccine rollout, ensure underserved communities have equitable access to the vaccine and support the already overwhelmed public health system. They noted that the latest COVID-19 relief package, enacted at the end of last year, did not include any direct funding for state or local governments and stressed that further assistance is necessary to ensure a successful and equitable vaccine distribution process. Counties have also called for direct and flexible federal assistance to bolster and expedite vaccine rollout at the local level and to reach our most vulnerable and underserved populations.
Witnesses also called for clarity and consistency in the federal government’s vaccine allocation process. Many of the witnesses expressed frustration with Tiberius, the software platform the federal government is using to coordinate the national vaccination campaign. Some stated that the platform is confusing, contains numerous data gaps and lags and is constantly changing. In addition, one witness noted that data from the Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program is only updated within Tiberius twice a week, resulting in an incomplete picture of vaccinations given in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.
Further, while witnesses were grateful for a recent Health and Human Services Department (HHS) policy shift that allows states and jurisdictions to order vaccines three weeks in advance, many expressed the need to increase vaccine production and allocations. Witnesses testified that their states were capable of administering more doses than they have received and that an increase is necessary to adequately carry out a vaccination distribution campaign. While counties are supportive of the Biden administration’s efforts to increase the production of vaccines, we continue to advocate for direct allocation of vaccine doses.
Witnesses recommended Congress work to encourage collaboration between federal agencies and state, local and tribal governments on the vaccine distribution process. Counties continue to stress the need for strong intergovernmental partnerships at all levels of government, including around communication and messaging efforts. NACo will continue to work alongside Congress and the Biden administration to advocate for additional support for counties and to monitor, track and report on COVID-19 vaccine distribution developments.
- NACo Blog: Biden Administration Unveils National Vaccine Strategy
- NACo Legislative Analysis for Counties: President-Elect Biden’s COVID-19 Resource Plan
- NACo’s COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Toolkit