Richmond Times-Dispatch


Federal changes made to quicken pace.


WASHINGTON— Facing a slower-than-hoped coronaviru­s vaccine rollout, the Trump administra­tion abruptly shifted gears Tuesday to speed the delivery of shots to more people. The move came as cases and deaths surged to alarming highs.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced a series of major changes to increase supply of vaccines, extend eligibilit­y to more seniors and provide more locations for people to get shots. Administra­tion officials conveyed a notable sense of urgency.

One change will have some teeth to it. Azar said the government will base each state’s allocation of vaccines partly on how successful states have been in administer­ing those already provided.

“If you are not using vaccines that you have the right to, then we should be rebalancin­g to states that are using that vaccine,” Azar said at news conference.

That won’t happen overnight, not until officials try to sort out whether lags in reporting could be the reason for what appears to be subpar performanc­e.

Azar also said the government will stop holding back the required second doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, practicall­y doubling supply. Both those shots require two doses to achieve optimum protection.

Additional­ly, Washington is urging states to immediatel­y start vaccinatin­g other groups lower down the priority scale, including people age 65 and older and younger people with certain health problems.

The move to increase the supply of vaccines better aligns the outgoing administra­tion with the new Biden-Harris team. On Friday, Presidente­lect Joe Biden said he will rapidly release most available vaccine doses to protect more people.

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

“Every vaccine dose sitting in a warehouse rather than going into an arm could mean one more death that could have been avoided.”

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

“This is not a supply issue at this moment in time,”

Vice President Mike Pence told governors on a White House call. A recording was provided to The Associated Press.

Azar also gave states the green light to designate more places where people can get shots. 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.

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.

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.

Azar also criticized what he called “the hospitaliz­ation of vaccine distributi­on,” saying, “We have too much vaccine sitting in freezers in hospitals.”

State and local officials are sure to point out that it was the federal government that recommende­d putting health care workers at the front of the vaccinatio­n line.

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 U.S. 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. But the American Hospital Associatio­n estimates 1.8 million vaccinatio­ns a day are needed, seven days a week, to achieve widespread immunity by the middle of this year. Biden has set a goal of 100 million shots administer­ed in his first 100 days.

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.

“All levels of the government­al public health system really need to be on the same page. Surprises don’t benefit anyone,” she said.

 ?? THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar (center) announced the change in vaccine policy on Tuesday.
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar (center) announced the change in vaccine policy on Tuesday.

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