By STEPHANIE EBBS and BEN GITTLESON, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — 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.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said on ABC’s “Good Morning America” that the administration will also stop holding enough vaccine to ensure there is enough for everyone to receive a second dose in the recommended time period, a change that Biden said he would make last week. Azar said the administration is confident vaccine companies’ manufacturing efforts will be able to meet the demand of how many doses are needed without changing the recommended schedule authorized by the Food and Drug Administration.
Azar said the changes move to the next phase of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, saying the administration is confident in the supply and wants states to expand their efforts.
“This is just a staging, moving to the next phase on the vaccine program,” Azar said. “We’ve had so much success with quality and predictable manufacturing and almost flawless distribution of the vaccine, but we have seen now that the administration in the states has been too narrowly focused,” he said on “Good Morning America.”
The changes come amid public frustration about the pace of vaccinations and confusion about the process of who is eligible and limited number of appointments available to be vaccinated. It will ultimately be up to governors and state and local officials to decide who is eligible to receive the vaccine in their state based on if they have enough supply of vaccine doses to meet demand and vaccinate the most vulnerable populations and essential workers.
The pace of vaccinations has increased in recent weeks — almost 9 million people have received their first dose according to CDC data — but experts say the pace needs to speed up even more and that state and local jurisdictions need more resources and support to resolve the bottleneck.
The expanded eligibility recommendations means millions more Americans will be eligible to get the vaccine, depending on their state. The CDC says there are 21 million people over the age of 75 in the country and 32 million people between the age of 65 and 74. 56% of adults also have a medical condition that could make them eligible to receive the vaccine immediately under the new recommendations regardless of age, including cancer, COPD, heart conditions, obesity, diabetes, or a compromised immune system.
As states speed up who is eligible to receive the vaccine, which many have already done, they’ll like see a tidal wave of demand from people trying to book a limited number of slots for the doses of vaccine available to be given out on a day to day basis. Some experts say making more doses of the vaccine available won’t resolve all the problems in the rollout if local efforts to administer the vaccine don’t get more support and staff to carry it out.
Azar said the administration was willing to “deploy teams to help states doing mass vaccination efforts if they wish to do so,” saying the distribution has been too centered around hospitals and more mass vaccination sites could help speed things up.
Biden said last week he wants to set up more federal vaccination sites or mobile clinics to reach more rural areas. HHS and Operation Warp Speed are also moving up the timeline to get more doses of the vaccine to local pharmacies and health clinics.
— Good Morning America (@GMA) January 12, 2021
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