Jan. 13, 2021 -- In a policy reversal, the Trump administration on Tuesday said it would release all available COVID-19 vaccine doses and urged the states to begin vaccinating everybody over age 65.
“This next phase reflects the urgency of the situation we face,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said at a news conference. “Every vaccine dose that is sitting in a warehouse rather than going into an arm could mean one more life lost or one more hospital bed occupied.”
Previously, the government had urged states to initially concentrate on vaccinating frontline healthcare workers and people in long-term care facilities, though some states like Florida had already begun vaccinating people over 65.
The government has also been holding back about half the available vaccine to guarantee a second shot for people who’d already gotten the first dose of the two-shot vaccine from Pfizer and Moderna.
Azar said the changes were being made to encourage states to speed up their vaccination programs. He predicted that in a week to 10 days, 1 million people would receive vaccinations daily.
President-elect Joe Biden said that when he took office all available doses would be released to ensure the maximum number of Americans had some form of protection from COVID.
Members of the Trump administration criticized that plan, with Azar saying it would jeopardize the “system that manages the flow, to maximize the number of first doses, but knowing there will be a second dose available, the New York Times reported.
But the administration, which at one point predicted 20 million people would be vaccinated by the end of 2020, has come under criticism for its slow rollout of the vaccine at a time when deaths, case counts and hospitalizations are setting new daily records.
As of Tuesday, 27.7 million doses have been distributed and 9.3 million doses have been administered, the CDC says.
Health experts say flooding the market with vaccines for first shots could create confusion in the members of the public already showing “vaccine hesitancy.”
It’s also unclear how long is too long to wait for a second dose.
The Pfizer vaccine doses should be given 21 days apart and the Moderna doses 28 days apart, the CDC had said earlier. The drug companies have said it’s crucial that the second shot be given because all clinical trials were based on two shots given at the specified intervals. But on Monday the C.D.C. said there is “no maximum interval between the first and second doses for either vaccine,” according to the New York Times.
“They will need to back this up with data,” said Marion Pepper, an immunologist at the University of Washington, the newspaper reported.
A Pfizer spokesman told the Times that “There are no data to demonstrate that protection after the first dose is sustained after 21 days.”
Azar said the government would also work to allow people to get vaccinated at more places, such as pharmacies and community centers.