Feds plan to release 2nd COVID-19 vaccine doses, expand eligibility amid criticism of rollout

The Trump administration is going to release all second COVID-19 vaccine doses immediately and expand eligibility for people 65 years old and over to help speed up the rollout of doses that have been delayed.

Officials with Operation Warp Speed, the joint Health and Human Services and Department of Defense initiative, laid out the major changes on Tuesday and adopted a plan that has been reportedly floated by President-elect Joe Biden.

HHS Secretary Alex Azar laid blame on states for the slow rollout of the vaccine doses, even though the federal government left the distribution plans up to states.

“We are telling states they should open vaccinations to all of their most vulnerable people. That is the most effective way to save lives now,” Azar said during the briefing.

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The first phase of vaccines were given to frontline healthcare workers and those in long-term care facilities. The second phase is for adults 65 years old and over and those below 65 with comorbidities.

That was the recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) but it is up to states on whether to follow it. 

Azar said that it was never meant for states to only give doses to that first group amid reports of some doses being wasted. He added that some states were too prescriptive and strict in giving out the initial doses to only those in the first priority groups.

“We clearly have enough vaccine at this point to begin to expand and get more and more individuals in our country vaccinated,” said CDC Director Robert Redfield in the briefing.

Azar wanted states to expand the access points for people to get the vaccine such as pharmacies and community health centers.

Within two weeks, Warp Speed is changing how it allocates the first doses for states to ensure that they are released based on the population of people 65 years old and over in a state.

Azar added that the administration is now sending out all doses to states instead of holding back second doses. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two shots to get full protection.

He said this has always been the plan as production ramps up to meet demand, which it now has.

Azar said that 25 million first doses have been made available to states.

The move comes amid criticism over the slow rollout of the initial doses of COVID-19 vaccines.

Warp Speed has left distribution plans to states for their initial allocations, which has led to consistency issues.

Some hospitals have reported getting more vaccines than they were expected while others got less, and the rules on patient priority levels can vary from state to state, according to a letter from the American Hospital Association to HHS asking for improvements to the rollout.

Azar said that a problem may have been data reporting. Providers are supposed to report vaccinations within 30 days but now that has been reduced to 72 hours.

Redfield said that the CDC is going to be doing a deep dive into the slow rollout.