Federal government calls for states to vaccinate people 65 and older, immunocompromised

Henrietta Strickland
January 13, 2021

The Trump administration plans to change recommendations on who should get the COVID-19 vaccine to include everyone age 65 and older and younger adults with medical conditions, a major change ahead of President-elect Joe Biden's plans to announce a similar approach later this week. His transition team has vowed to release as many vaccine doses as possible, rather than continuing the Trump administration policy of holding back millions of doses to ensure there would be enough supply to allow those getting the first shot to get a second one.

"We are calling on our governors to now vaccinate people aged 65 and over, and under age 65 with a (health condition) because we have got to expand the group", he said. He said the vaccine production is such that the second dose of the two-shot vaccine can be released without jeopardizing immunization for those who got the first shot.

Initially, the shots were going to health care workers and nursing home residents.

Federal and state health officials have scrambled in recent days to step up vaccination programs that had given shots to only 9.3 million Americans as coronavirus infections remain at record highs in many US states almost two weeks into the new year. "States should not be waiting to complete 1A priorities", he said referring to healthcare workers and long-term care facility residents, "before proceeding to broader categories of eligibility".

But it will be several months before there is enough vaccine available to meet that kind of demand. Even if those doses can be manufactured and shipped seamlessly, that's only enough for 100 million people, given that the now authorized vaccines require two doses each. Some hospital and nursing home workers have been hesitant to get the vaccine.

Azar's new instructions put 152 million people - about half of the adult population of the country - at the front of the vaccine line. State and local public health authorities will have to junk some plans and draft others.

"Ideally, the push would be to get as many people as you can some immunity and worry about the booster shot later", said Davis. "We've got to get it to pharmacies, get it to community health centers".

"We will deploy teams to support states doing mass vaccination efforts if they wish to do so", he added.

Although Azar said the shift in strategy was a natural evolution of the Trump administration's efforts, as recently as Friday he had raised questions about whether Biden's call to accelerate supplies was prudent.

The Trump administration directed a crash effort to develop, manufacture and deliver vaccines, hoping to avoid a repeat of earlier debacles with coronavirus testing.

Most states are still trying to get the vaccine to those in the first phases of the rollout: health care workers, those over age 75 and front-line essential workers, such as firefighters and police officers, as well as teachers, corrections officers, USA postal workers, public transit workers and those whose jobs are essential for the food supply.

While the decision for who is eligible to get a vaccine is up to states, recommendations from the federal government are influential.

Finally, Azar outlined the reallocation of vaccine doses to those states that are most effective in administering them, based on self-report, and to those states with the greatest numbers of adults who are over age 65. More than 376,000 people have died, according to the Johns Hopkins database.

"We're in a race against this virus and quite frankly, we're behind", U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams told "Fox & Friends".

Some states, including Arizona, have or are planning to open up mass vaccination centers, aiming to inoculate thousands of people a day in a single location.

Azar said the pace of vaccinations has picked up, on track to reach 1 million daily within a couple of weeks.

Public health officials say the pace is picking up somewhat - nearly 9 million people have received their first dose according to CDC data - but experts say the pace needs to increase and that state and local jurisdictions need more resources and support to resolve the bottleneck.

Dr. Frederick Davis, from Northwell Health, says time between doses is usually three or four weeks, and although he believes it is important to receive the second dose on time - he says getting the first dose out should be the priority.

With regard to expanding the sites where vaccines can be administered, Azar said that it made sense to focus on hospitals for distribution when the primary populations being vaccinated were healthcare workers, but it's now time to equip other sites to help deliver vaccine shots.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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