(CN) — The decentralized rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine in the United States is moving slower than anticipated, but a massive boost in funding this week — and a new plan from President-elect Joe Biden — could alleviate some of states’ most pressing concerns about distribution.
On Friday, Biden said he will reverse the Trump administration’s distribution approach for second doses of vaccine. The move followed a letter from six state governors asking for the change.
Both of the coronavirus vaccines allowed in the U.S. require two doses to achieve full efficacy, with the second shot administered three or four weeks after the first one. The federal government has so far reserved half of its total supply of vaccine to ensure that the booster shot is available to those who already received an injection.
Given the current low supply, however, medical experts modeling vaccine distribution have said it’s most effective right now to get the first dose to as many people as possible.
“You can roll out vaccine doses a lot faster if you’re not saving that second dose,” said Charles Stoecker, associate professor at Tulane University’s Department of Health Policy and Management.
Biden’s new plan lines up with the approach in the United Kingdom, now in its third lockdown after a variant of the novel coronavirus caused a spike in infections.
The president-elect “believes we must accelerate distribution of the vaccine while continuing to ensure the Americans who need it most get it as soon as possible," T.J. Ducklo, a spokesman for Biden, told CNN. "He supports releasing available doses immediately, and believes the government should stop holding back vaccine supply so we can get more shots in Americans' arms now."
Biden's team said he will give more details after he takes office.
Friday’s announcement came after a letter from the governors of Michigan, California, Kansas, Illinois, Minnesota, New York, Washington and Wisconsin, saying the Trump administration has been withholding doses “for reasons unknown.”
“While some of these life-saving vaccines are sitting in Pfizer freezers, our nation is losing 2,661 Americans each day,” the state leaders wrote. “The failure to distribute these doses to states who request them is unconscionable and unacceptable. We demand that the federal government begin distributing these reserved doses to states immediately.”
Stoecker noted that the decision not to reserve doses requires “making a leap of faith,” as state must then obtain more doses in a three-week period to vaccinate people who have already received their first shot.
“It’s not clear exactly what the problem is of missing that three-week window is,” he said, “but that was what was in the trial, so we want to stick to that if possible.”
Funding, in addition to vaccine supply, has been a worry across state governments that, unlike the federal government, lack the option for deficit spending.
That could change soon: An additional $22 billion will head to states and territories in the new few weeks, part of the bipartisan coronavirus relief package signed in December.
States had previously received a total of $340 million for vaccine planning.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services aims to make the money available by Jan. 19, the agency announced Wednesday — the same day the country saw its deadliest day of the coronavirus pandemic, reporting 3,964 deaths. The record was again topped on Thursday.
The pandemic has killed more than 360,000 Americans.
With vaccine distribution underway — however chaotically — this week’s events signal the next phase of the ongoing pandemic. Here’s what we know so far.