This move aligns with Biden’s inbound administration strategy to rapidly release most doses of vaccine.
Barely a month after the start of a mass vaccination campaign to stop the COVID-19 pandemic, the Trump administration unexpectedly shifted gears on Tuesday to speed up vaccine delivery after a slow start that had sparked widespread concern from states and public health officials.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced two major changes. First, the government will no longer withhold the required second doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, virtually doubling the supply. Second, states should immediately begin immunizing other groups below the priority scale, including people aged 65 and over and younger people with certain health conditions.
The move better aligns the outgoing administration with the new Biden-Harris team. Friday, president elect Joe biden says he’s going fast Release most vaccine doses available to protect more people. He said he supported at once the release of vaccines that health officials were withholding out of caution, to ensure they would be available to people needing their second dose.
“We had withheld second doses as a safety stock,” Azar told ABC News. “We now believe that our manufacturing is predictable enough that we can ensure the availability of second doses for people in current production. So everything is now available for our states and our healthcare providers.
Simultaneously, he gave the green light to states to dramatically expand the pool of people eligible to receive vaccines.
“We are calling on our governors to now vaccinate people aged 65 and over and under 65 with a (health problem) because we need to expand the group,” he said.
As of Monday morning, the government had distributed about 25.5 million doses to states, U.S. territories and major cities. But only around 9 million people had received their first injection. This means that only about 35 percent of the available vaccines had been administered.
Initially, the shots were aimed at healthcare workers and residents of nursing homes. The 75 and over were next. But problems arose even when vaccinating this limited pool of people. Some hospital and nursing home workers were reluctant to get vaccinated. Scheduling issues resulted in delays in getting the shots fired at nursing homes.
“We need to access more administration channels,” Azar said. “We have to take it to pharmacies, take it to community health centers.”
“We will deploy teams to help states make mass immunization efforts if they wish,” he added.
Although Azar said the change was a natural evolution of the Trump administration’s efforts, as late as Friday he raised the question of whether Biden’s call to speed up supplies was prudent.
Each state has its own plan for determining who needs to be vaccinated, based on recommendations from the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC’s recommendations prioritize healthcare workers and residents of nursing homes.
But the slow rollout of the vaccine has frustrated many Americans at a time when the death toll from coronavirus has continued to rise. More than 376,000 people have died, according to the Johns Hopkins Database.
The new strategy would require Pfizer and Moderna, makers of the first two coronavirus vaccines licensed in the United States, to be able to maintain a constant supply so that the second injections can always be delivered on time.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine requires a second injection approximately three weeks after the first vaccination. Moderna needs a second shot about four weeks later. Single injection vaccines are still being tested.