Biden to Release Almost All Covid-19 Vaccine Doses

Tabling concerns about second-dose supplies, the president-elect has a new strategy to combat the slow rollout of vaccines for the novel coronavirus under Trump.

Christie Aiello, left and Denise Gomez prepare the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for medical workers at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, Calif., on Thursday. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

WASHINGTON (CN) — To get more vaccines shot into the arms of Americans still grappling with the Covid-19 pandemic, President-elect Joe Biden announced Friday he would release almost all available doses in the U.S. to speed up distribution.

President Donald Trump’s outgoing administration has only released about half of its vaccine stores, intending to keep enough supply to ensure that all individuals who got the first of two shots as part of the vaccination would still get the second dose.

Things have not gone quite as planned. 

Under the coordination of the Trump White House’s vaccine program, Operation Warp Speed, only 21 million vaccines have been shipped around the U.S., while fewer than 6 million people have actually received them.

President Trump and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said last year that 100 million doses would be ready to go by Dec. 31, 2020, but Secretary Azar recalibrated the distribution totals by mid-month to about 20 million vaccinated by the first day of 2021. 

A representative for the Biden transition team said Friday the president-elect believes accelerating the schedule is necessary to jumpstart distribution and effectively stamp out the virus.

Biden team spokesman T.J. Ducklo said Friday additional information about the specifics for distribution is forthcoming.

A small portion of the doses in the queue will still be held back in the event of any emergencies.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has underlined the importance of receiving two doses to ensure efficacy. Officials at the FDA have been cool to the idea of maximizing first dosages without adequate supply.

“At this time, suggesting changes to the FDA-authorized dosing or schedules of these vaccines is premature and not rooted solidly in the available evidence. Without appropriate data supporting such changes in vaccine administration, we run a significant risk of placing public health at risk, and undermining the historic vaccination efforts to protect the population from Covid-19,” Stephen Hahn, commissioner of the FDA, said last week.

The two vaccines being disseminated today are produced by Pfizer and BioNTech and Moderna, with the efficacy hovering around 95% for both after two shots.

Scientists found that the Pfizer-BioNTech jab is still about 70% effective after one dose, and that a single dose of Moderna’s product is 80% effective.

A cadre of state governors issued a letter Friday to Azar and Gustave Perna, the chief operating officer for Health and Human Services, asking for more doses to begin circulating. 

“According to publicly reported information, the federal government currently has upwards of 50% of currently produced vaccines held back by the administration for reasons unknown. While some of these life-saving vaccines are sitting in Pfizer freezers, our nation is losing 2,661 Americans each day, according to the latest seven-day average,” the group of governors wrote, including Jay Inslee of Washington, Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, Tony Evers of Wisconsin, Tim Walz of Minnesota, Laura Kelly of Kansas, Gavin Newsom of California, Andrew Cuomo of New York and J.B Pritzker of Illinois.

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