Trump administration to ask states to speed up vaccinations instead of holding back second doses

Adrianna Rodriguez
 
| USA TODAY

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Azar: governors should speed vaccine efforts

Health and Human Services secretary Alex Azar urged governors on Wednesday to open up vaccination campaigns to broader populations rather than ‘micromanaging’ the process of vaccine distribution. (Jan. 6)

AP

The U.S. government is asking states to speed up COVID-19 vaccinations to people over the age of 65 and others at risk instead of holding back vaccines for a second dose.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said that “the administration in the states has been too narrowly focused.”

“We now believe that our manufacturing is predictable enough that we can ensure second doses are available for people from ongoing production,” Azar told ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Tuesday. “So everything is now available to our states and our health care providers.” 

The Trump administration is expected to deliver new guidelines Tuesday that aim to speed things up and get more people vaccinated, moving the nation closer to widespread immunity. Federal officials have been holding back enough vaccine doses to guarantee booster shots to everyone who got the first dose.

After a glow of hope when the first vaccines were approved last month, the nation’s inoculation campaign has gotten off to a slow start.

So far, the vaccine rollout has been primarily to health care workers and nursing home residents. Of 25.4 million doses distributed, about 8.9 million have been administered as of Monday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Azar said it was now time to move “to the next phase on the vaccine program” and expand the pool of those eligible to get the first dose.

That also means expanding the number of places where people can be vaccinated by adding community health centers and additional drug stores.

“We’ve already distributed more vaccine than we have health care workers and people in nursing homes,” Azar said. “We’ve got to get to more channels of administration. We’ve got to get it to pharmacies, get it to community health centers.”

He said the federal government “will deploy teams to support states doing mass vaccination efforts if they wish to do so.” 

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The American Hospital Association estimates the nation would need to vaccinate 1.8 million people a day, every day, from Jan. 1 to May 31, to reach the goal of having widespread immunity by the summer. That’s also called “herd immunity” and would involve vaccinating at least 75% of the population.

The news comes after the incoming Biden administration announced a plan Friday to prioritize the first dose and release all the available COVID-19 vaccines. The team said that it didn’t make sense to hold back vaccines at a time when more Americans are dying than at any point in the pandemic.

As of Tuesday, the U.S. reported more than 22 million cases and 375,000 deaths related to COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins data. 

“The president-elect believes we must accelerate distribution of the vaccine while continuing to ensure the Americans who need it most get it as soon as possible,” spokesman T.J. Ducklo said in a statement sent to USA TODAY on Friday. Biden “supports releasing available doses immediately, and believes the government should stop holding back vaccine supply so we can get more shots in Americans’ arms now.”

Biden is expected to give a speech Thursday outlining his plan to speed vaccines to more people in the first part of his administration.

Both vaccines authorized for use were studied in a two-dose regimen, with the Pfizer-BioNTech doses given 21 days apart and Moderna’s 28 days apart.

Contributing: Karen Weintraub, USA TODAY; Associated Press. Follow Adrianna Rodriguez on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT.

Health and patient safety coverage at USA TODAY is made possible in part by a grant from the Masimo Foundation for Ethics, Innovation and Competition in Healthcare. The Masimo Foundation does not provide editorial input.

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