WASHINGTON — Facing a slower-than-hoped coronavirus vaccine rollout, the Trump administration abruptly shifted gears Tuesday to speed the delivery of shots to more people. The move came as cases and deaths surged to alarming new highs.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced a series of major changes to increase supply of vaccines, extend eligibility to more seniors and provide more locations for people to get shots. Administration officials describing the new policies conveyed a notable sense of urgency.
One change will have some teeth to it. Azar said going forward the federal government will base each state’s allocation of vaccines partly on how successful states have been in administering those already provided.
“If you are not using vaccines that you have the right to, then we should be rebalancing to states that are using that vaccine,” Azar said at news conference.
That won’t happen overnight, not until officials try to sort out whether lags in reporting could be the reason for what appears to be subpar performance. Currently, the government allocates vaccines based on state population.
Azar also said the government will stop holding back the required second doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, practically doubling supply. Both those shots require two doses to achieve optimum protection.
Additionally, Washington is urging states to immediately start vaccinating other groups lower down the priority scale, including people age 65 and older and younger people with certain health problems.
The move to increase the supply of vaccines better aligns the outgoing administration with the new Biden-Harris team. On Friday, President-elect Joe Biden said he will rapidly release most available vaccine doses to protect more people.
Biden said he supported immediately releasing vaccines that health authorities were holding back out of caution, to guarantee they would be available for people needing their second dose.
“This next phase reflects the urgency of the situation,” said Azar. “Every vaccine dose sitting in a warehouse rather than going into an arm could mean one more death that could have been avoided.”