The updated guidance from the Trump administration comes as vaccination rates continue to lag across the country weeks after two viable vaccines hit the market.
(CN) — In efforts to speed up Covid vaccination rates, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Tuesday urged states to start vaccinating everyone 65 and older and to stop reserving two shots per person.
The agency also told states to vaccinate younger people with certain health conditions. The changes will take place in two weeks, and vaccines will be handed out based on rates of distribution reported by states and population needs.
“The doses allocated exceeds the group priority populations in group 1A, including frontline health workers and seniors living in long-term care facilities, which means that supply now exceeds demand for these groups,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar in a briefing. Azar estimated 700,000 people are vaccinated daily in the U.S.
To date, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports distributing 25.4 million vaccines. Almost 9 million Americans have received the first of two shots needed to protect against novel coronavirus Sars-Cov-2. To be fully inoculated against the virus, two doses weeks apart must be received.
Since second doses are not being held in reserve, Azar said people who receive their first vaccine will be given priority with newly manufactured vaccines before others receive an initial dose.
Azar said the data supports expanding eligible groups and vaccination channels, while focusing on eligible populations. Additionally, he discouraged states from attempting to fully vaccinate one group before moving on to the next.
“We are telling states to open vaccinations to all of their most vulnerable people. That is the most effective way to save lives now,” Azar said, rebuking what he called “states’ heavy handed micro-management of this process [which] has stood in the way of vaccines reaching a broader swatch of the vulnerable population more quickly.”
Covid-19 has infected 22 million Americans and killed 373,167, making it the third leading cause of death in the nation.
Under the banner Operation Warp Speed, the federal government supported six vaccine candidates. Vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna won emergency approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are the only two being put in American arms so far.
“If you test positive and are at risk of severe disease, or have a co-morbidity, you should be asking your doctor why you weren’t given one of the vaccines that are in ready supply,” Azar said. “We have products sitting on the shelves that can help keep people out of the hospital.”
The federal agency also advised citizens to continue wearing masks and practicing social distancing to control the spread of Covid-19.
“This is particularly important right now as we are experiencing the post-holiday-surge surge,” said CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield in a press conference.
“We have many jurisdictions now that are on the verge of going from linear growth to basically exponential growth and we believe its critically important at this time to get those most vulnerable people as quickly as we can into vaccine programs,” Redfield said, urging Americans to prevent the spread of Covid-19 from household to household.
Although Redfield described January and February as difficult months, he said he sees the light at the end of the tunnel.
President-elect Joe Biden, who takes office in eight days, has pledged to release 100 million shots in his first 100 days of office. He is expected to discuss his plan Thursday.