The Trump administration, in a bid to speed up COVID-19 vaccination efforts, is asking states to widen distribution to include people ages 65 and older, and others who are at high risk for severe illness by releasing second doses that were previously being reserved for those who already had the first shot.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Tuesday that the administration is confident enough in vaccine production to ensure second doses are available when people need them. Both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, the only two to receive emergency use authorization in the U.S., require two doses of vaccine spaced several weeks apart.
Previously, the directive had been to first administer the vaccine to health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities before moving onto the next phase of distribution, but states nationwide have been plagued by hiccups and lagging vaccination rates.
As of Monday, the U.S. had distributed over 25.4 million doses of vaccine, but only administered 8.9 million.
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The shift in guidance comes after Azar said it was determined that the government had distributed more vaccine than necessary for health care workers and people in nursing homes and that the next level of distribution must also include pharmacies and community health centers in order to speed along the process.
Azar said that the federal government would be willing to assist in setting up mass vaccination centers.
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President-elect Joe Biden is expected to give a speech later this week outlining his plan to speed vaccination efforts, which includes releasing as many doses as possible rather than reserving a certain amount to ensure supply for second doses.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.