HHS Tells States to Open Vaccine Access to Vulnerable Adults

Modesto Morganelli
Gennaio 13, 2021

The last-minute shift, announced by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar with fewer than eight days left in the Trump administration, added new complications to an already hard handoff of one of the most ambitious immunization campaign in American history.

"We are going to accept the federal guidance of the 65 plus and the immunocompromised", he said.

"This new system gives states a strong incentive to ensure that all vaccinations are being promptly reported, which they're now not, and.to ensure doses are going to work.protecting people, rather than sitting on shelves or in freezers", Azar stated.

The new federal guidelines will urge states to open up the process of receiving vaccines to everyone over the age of 65, according to a report by Axios. 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.

As a result, he said, the Trump administration is now asking states to vaccinate people age 65 and over and those under 65 with underlying health conditions that put them at high risk.

The move to increase the supply of vaccines better aligns the outgoing administration with the new Biden-Harris team. The move all but ensures the current narrative around the vaccine rollout - it's too slow - will shift, but not in a positive direction: The incoming Biden administration will likely face a groundswell of complaints about long lines, failed efforts to find vaccine supplies, and an inequitable distribution system as it tries to live up to its promise of seeing 100 million vaccine doses administered in the new president's first 100 days in office.

"This next phase reflects the urgency of the situation", said Azar.

Initially the government had been holding back second doses as a safety precaution against potential shortfalls in production. Now, officials say they are confident the needed supply will be there.

In upending the prioritization schedule, Azar has pushed to the front of the line people he wanted to see there in the first place.

"Ideally, the push would be to get as many people as you can some immunity and worry about the booster shot later", said Davis. Those locations can include tens of thousands of pharmacies, federally supported community health centers that serve low-income communities, and mass vaccination sites already being set up in some states.

As of Monday morning, the government had distributed about 27.7 million doses to states, US territories and major cities. But only about 9.3 million people had received their first shot, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's online tracker.

But it will be several months before there is enough vaccine available to meet that kind of demand. Those 75 and older were next in line. But problems arose even in vaccinating that limited pool of people. Scheduling issues created delays in getting shots to nursing homes.

On Tuesday, he also sought to deflect blame to the states for the slow uptake of vaccines. Azar said some states are being "overly prescriptive and trying to micromanage every single dose of vaccine", leading to bottlenecks.

Health officials at the state and federal level 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 USA states 12 days into the new year.

The Trump administration directed a crash effort to develop, manufacture and deliver vaccines, hoping to avoid a repeat of earlier debacles with coronavirus testing. Dubbed "Operation Warp Speed", it has produced two highly effective vaccines, with more on the way. Some critics say the administration's planning should have extended into helping states administer the shots after they were delivered.

The slow pace of the vaccine rollout has frustrated many Americans at a time when the coronavirus death toll has continued to rise. More than 376,000 people in the US have died, according to the Johns Hopkins database.

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

Local public health officials were surprised by Tuesday's announcement and scrambling to figure out how to implement the changes, said Adriane Casalotti of NACCHO, the National Association of County and City Health Officials.

"You gain something and you lose some things", she said.

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