The Trump administration on Tuesday said it will release all doses of the coronavirus vaccine and that states should begin offering shots to all people over 65 and adults with medical conditions to jumpstart the sluggish rollout.
U.S. health officials said more than 25 million doses have been distributed, so supply now exceeds the population of health workers and nursing-home residents who make up “phase 1a.” They said it is time to inoculate more vulnerable Americans instead of plodding through the process of rooting out first-round recipients.
“That is the most effective way to save lives now,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said.
Members of “Operation Warp Speed” said manufacturing had reached a sufficient level to provide second doses without holding the boosters in reserve, while expanding the range of people who receive their initial doses. People seeking their second dose will retain priority.
“We are 100% committed to ensuring a second dose is available for every American who receives a first dose,” Mr. Azar said. “Ignoring that would be reckless.”
The government also said it will work to increase the number of health centers and pharmacies where people can get vaccinated so the effort isn’t concentrated in hospitals.
The shakeup in federal guidance parallels similar moves in the states. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is positioning his state as a leader in immunizing seniors, while California is converting Disneyland and stadiums where the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres play into mass-vaccination centers.
Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo said New Yorkers aged 65 and older would be eligible “effective immediately,” though cautioned on Twitter: “I urge patience as unfortunately there are far more eligible NYers than there is vaccine supply from the federal gov.”
Operation Warp Speed science adviser Moncef Slaoui said he expects Johnson & Johnson to file for emergency use of its single-dose vaccine by the end of the month, putting it on track for emergency approval by mid-February.
Mr. Slaoui anticipates a supply in the single-digit millions by the second half of February, though the federal operation is pushing for the double-digit millions, before a gradual increase through March. Each dose would represent a full vaccination, since the J&J vaccine doesn’t require the booster shot.
The vaccine from AstraZeneca and Oxford University is being used in the United Kingdom and Europe’s pharmaceutical regulator said AstraZeneca and Oxford University have submitted an application for approval across the European Union, but the American trial is still nearing full recruitment and isn’t on pace for approval until March, according to Mr. Slaoui.
The company has agreed to supply the U.S. with 300 million doses of the two-shot vaccine, once approved.
Roughly 9 million people have been vaccinated with a first dose of the Pfizer or Moderna versions out of 25 million distributed doses in the U.S.
The pace is far short of goals as the country tries to build immunity to COVID-19, which is killing more than 3,000 people in the U.S. per day, on average, and has claimed about 380,000 Americans since the start of the pandemic. Officials said a reporting lag is partly responsible for the low inoculation numbers.
Federal advisers told states to prioritize health workers and residents of nursing homes, but the process proved to be too deliberate in places, resulting in doses sitting on shelves.
The Trump administration wants to begin allocating vaccines based on the pace of each state’s rollout and the size of their population over age 65, saying it will give them incentive them to move faster.
“If you’re not using vaccine you have the right to, we should be rebalancing to states that are using that vaccine,” Mr. Azar said.
The plan will not go into effect for another two weeks, leaving it up to the incoming Biden administration to accept the idea or reject it.
President-elect Joseph R. Biden’s team plans to detail on Thursday how it will handle the vaccine effort. Mr. Biden has said he will not hold back doses and that he plans to use the Defense Production Act to compel the manufacture of needed supplies.
Some experts say the level of federal assistance to the states could determine whether the effort is successful.
“You can issue recommendations and guidelines and expansions all day long, but if you do not pay attention to helping states to roll out supply by giving them money, if you don’t help them set up vaccination sites — you’re going to see the same logjams you’ve already seen,” said Arthur Caplan, director of the division of medical ethics at the New York University Grossman School of Medicine. “I think we haven’t had enough attention to the practicalities.”
Experts say 70% to 80% of the American public will need to be immunized to develop the type of immunity that can bring the virus to manageable levels this year.
Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Americans must take precautions during the vaccination push.
“Wear a mask — they work,” he said. “Social distance — it works.”
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