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Supplies Of COVID-19 Vaccines Vary In Parts Of The U.S.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

More than 3 million Americans are getting a COVID vaccination every single day. That's a lot. But the administration of that vaccine looks very different depending on which state you're in. In some parts of this country, the supply of the vaccine outstrips the demand. There are appointments to get a shot that are going unfilled. And at the same time, there are parts of this country where there's an urgent need for more supply. NPR's Allison Aubrey is following all of this. Allison, good morning.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: So let's take one example - Michigan. What's happening there?

AUBREY: Well, Governor Gretchen Whitmer says her state needs more supply right now. She says extra doses could help quash hot spots. That state is seeing a surge right now. Now, so far, the White House COVID Response Team has said it will not shift the allocation program, which is based on state's population. So the administration has promised extra resources, but not more doses. And Governor Whitmer continues to press the issue. Here she is on CBS yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF CBS BROADCAST)

GRETCHEN WHITMER: We are definitely grateful for the boots on the ground that they're sending, the mobile units. But I am going to also continue fighting for my state. And we have thousands of partners who are ready to put shots in arms. We just need those vaccines to come into Michigan.

AUBREY: She says the variants help explain the surge there. And around the country, Steve, the virus is still circulating with more than 60,000 new cases a day. This comes as allocations of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are down significantly. That's due to a production issue at a Maryland facility where vaccine ingredients were mixed up. This is still being worked out, so fewer doses of this vaccine are being shipped out now.

INSKEEP: You've just told us a story of scarcity, Michigan saying we need more doses - we could use more doses. And yet there are other parts of the country where they have more doses than they have arms to put them in.

AUBREY: That's right. I mean, this is the hesitancy that we've been talking about, I think. I spoke to Claire Hannan of the Association of Immunization Managers. She points to areas in the South, including Mississippi, as well as in Kansas in the Midwest, parts of North Dakota. You know, there are lots of efforts underway right now to reach out to people directly, including having primary care doctors call their patients directly or get in touch with them.

CLAIRE HANNAN: In Alaska, they're actually going door to door. And in North Dakota, they're getting their providers to record messages, to send out little videos to their patients, you know, encouraging the vaccine, stating that they've gotten the vaccine. And hopefully that is making a difference. But we're just kind of reaching that point where supply is ahead of demand in some areas.

AUBREY: Remember, public health experts say we need about 80% or so of the population to be protected to reach herd immunity. Right now, about 22% of the total population is fully vaccinated in the U.S. So we have a ways to go. Pfizer is now asking for emergency use authorization for 12- to 15-year-olds, so that age group could be eligible for the vaccine soon.

INSKEEP: College-age students are already eligible. So what are universities doing?

AUBREY: Well, some colleges have already announced they will require COVID vaccination for students coming back to campus next fall - Duke University, Brown, Rutgers, Cornell. I spoke to Cornell University's provost, Michael Kotlikoff. He told me that they have decided from a legal standpoint it is appropriate and defendable to require them with exemptions for religious or medical reasons.

MICHAEL KOTLIKOFF: It's not uncommon for universities to mandate that students be vaccinated against dangerous diseases like measles and mumps. And COVID-19 is now a preventable disease, preventable through vaccination. So it's, for us, a part of creating a safe environment for everyone attending.

AUBREY: Now, other colleges are waiting on this. Some administrators tell me they're hesitant since the vaccine is new and, so far, has emergency use authorization, not full FDA approval yet. So Steve, some institutions may choose to give students an option, either proof of vaccination or evidence of a negative test.

INSKEEP: In what other settings might people be required to prove they're vaccinated?

AUBREY: Perhaps on a cruise ship. Some cruise lines have already said they will require passengers to be vaccinated. And there are multiple efforts underway to use technology to certify vaccination status. Later this month, the Vaccination Credential Initiative, as it's called - it's a coalition of a bunch of health care and tech groups, including IBM and the Mayo Clinic - they plan to release guidance.

IBM is already piloting what they call a digital health pass in New York. It's called the Excelsior Pass. I spoke to Tim Paydos at IBM about this. He likens it to kind of like TSA PreCheck. It's voluntary. And if you choose to sign up, you could move through the security line more quickly. He says this could be used by, say, an airline or a cruise line.

TIM PAYDOS: So when you go to the cruise and you hand them your ticket or your boarding pass, they'll also ask you for some proof of vaccination. Now, if you can just show them the QR code on your phone, they can zap it - that QR code - they'll get a signal that, yes, that's an authentic vaccination record from an actual credentialed, authorized health department or vaccination administrator.

AUBREY: Now, the World Health Organization has also established a working group that aims to create standards for digital vaccination, too. But clearly, Steve, there are a lot of issues to work out - equity issues, for instance, given so many people around the globe don't have access to a vaccine yet.

INSKEEP: Yeah, there are some countries that are months behind where the United States is, for example. So what, if anything, is the United States going to do about that?

AUBREY: Well, Secretary of State Tony Blinken has pointed to the partnership with Japan, India and Australia to increase vaccine manufacturing capacity and to vaccine loans to Mexico and Canada. On NBC yesterday, he said the U.S. has the responsibility to take the lead here in order to put the pandemic behind us.

(SOUNDBITE OF NBC BROADCAST)

ANTONY BLINKEN: We're going to be the world leader on helping to make sure that the entire world gets vaccinated. And here's why. Unless and until the vast majority of people in the world are vaccinated, it's still going to be a problem for us because as long as the virus is replicating somewhere, it could be mutating and that it could be coming back to hit us.

AUBREY: And, you know, given what's happening in Brazil and India with cases surging, it really puts this urgency into perspective.

INSKEEP: What I hear from Blinken is not that this is a matter of charity to the world, it's enlightened self-interest. Right? This needs to be stopped everywhere if it's truly to be stopped in the United States.

AUBREY: That's exactly right. We don't want to end up where we started with the virus mutating and then having to do this all over again.

INSKEEP: Allison, thanks for your updates, really appreciate them Monday after Monday.

AUBREY: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Allison Aubrey.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE ALBUM LEAF'S "BLANK PAGES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.