Image by Katja Fuhlert

Leaders of Operation Warp Speed, the U.S. initiative to develop and distribute vaccine for COVID-19, as well as members of the Trump Administration, have repeatedly claimed that 40 million doses of a vaccine will be distributed to 20 million Americans by the end of December.

Warp Speed head Moncef Slaoui said at a press briefing last week that "we will be able to distribute… enough vaccine to immunize 20 million people in the U.S. in December."

But the situation on the ground tells a different story, and STAT News reports that hitting the 20 million vaccination benchmark — especially with each recipient getting the required two doses — could take months.

The plan will likely be to dole out vaccinations to front-line healthcare workers first. At least, that's what a CDC advisory panel suggests the government does, but the actual plan may differ and there are many specifics to work out.

Meanwhile, those involved in vaccine planning at state-level health departments are left navigating the confusion happening at the federal level. Hospitals, especially those in rural or more remote areas, expect delays and may struggle with the logistics of mass immunization along the way.

"We're not going to get 300 doses [immediately] for a hospital that has 300 employees, "Pat Schou, director of the Illinois Critical Access Hospital Network, told STAT. "I think it’s going to take a couple months. By mid-February, I would hope that we would have almost all our health care workers and EMS and be moving into long-term care. I think that’s the best we can hope for."

Other state health department officials told STAT that the information they receive constantly changes, so they're not sure exactly what the plan is or will be. And as staffing shortages — we are still in the throes of a horrible pandemic, after all — make it difficult to spare even one healthcare worker, officials aren't sure how they'll manage while those workers take time to get vaccinated.

"You can't just pull someone off their shift to go get vaccinated, you’re gonna have to rotate your staff to do that,” Anita Lundquist, executive director of pharmacy services at St. Croix Regional Medical Center in Wisconsin, told STAT.

All in all, it seems like vaccines could indeed be rolling out soon in the U.S. — but we'll likely have to continue waiting a bit longer to actually get them.