WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is asking states to speed delivery of COVID-19 vaccines to people 65 and older and to others at high risk by no longer holding back the second dose of the two-dose shots, officials said Tuesday.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said that “the administration in the states has been too narrowly focused.”
As a result, he said, the Trump administration is now asking states to vaccinate people age 65 and over and those under 65 with underlying health conditions that put them at high risk. He said the vaccine production is such that the second dose of the two-shot vaccine can be released without jeopardizing immunization for those who got the first shot.
“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.” “So everything is now available to our states and our health care providers.”
87-year-old Glenn Nanney told Channel 9 he’s scheduled to get his shot this weekend.
“I’m very much looking forward to it, he said,” “I think it’s very important, I’m happy I got it this soon.”
So far, the vaccine rollout has been primarily to health care workers and nursing home residents, and the slow pace has frustrated many Americans at a time when the coronavirus death toll has continued to rise. More than 376,000 people have died, according to the Johns Hopkins database.
Dr. Helmut Albretch was formally head of the Infectious Disease Division at USC. He and many others have been critical of the slow vaccine rollout.
“We need to scale up vaccines right now at the rate that were giving it we’ll be done in 2026 which is completely unacceptable,” he said.
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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.”
The vaccine process is a two dose regimen with the second shot given 3 to 4 weeks after the first. Millions of doses were held in reserve for that second shot, holding up the process.
Experts say there is a risk with releasing the reserve because if the second dose isn’t given in a timely fashion it’s not clear if the vaccine will offer the prescribed level of protection.]
“The worst case scenario that you always have to look at is that we’re wasting millions and millions of shots because it doesn’t work that way, it could be that it works just as well,” Albretch said.
Second shots were not delayed in the clinical trials, so there is no data on if it adversely affects the vaccine process.
“So if they can assure us the processes look like there there and there is a supply that can come in 21 to 28 days of people getting vaccinated, then it makes me feel like we have to believe them,”Dr. David Wohl with UNC said.
Both experts agree this change should not discourage anyone from getting that first shot.
“So we have a home run on our hands, a guaranteed home run, you just have to step up to the plate, so if you can get it, by all means get it,” Albretch said.
Azar said the federal government “will deploy teams to support states doing mass vaccination efforts if they wish to do so.”
President-elect Joe Biden is expected to give a speech Thursday outlining his plan to speed vaccines to more people in the first part of his administration. His transition team has vowed to release as many vaccine doses as possible, rather than continuing the Trump administration policy of holding back millions of doses to ensure there would be enough supply to allow those getting the first shot to get a second one.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine requires a second shot about three weeks after the first vaccination. Another vaccine, this one produced by Moderna, requires a second shot about four weeks afterward. One-shot vaccines are still undergoing testing.
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