Trump Administration Changes Course to Speed Up COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (NPR) — The Trump administration is making several big changes to its COVID-19 vaccine distribution strategy, officials announced Tuesday, in a bid to jump-start the rollout and get more Americans vaccinated quickly.

A health care worker administers a COVID-19 vaccination
A health care worker administers a COVID-19 vaccination at the new Alamodome COVID-19 vaccine site, Monday, Jan. 11, 2021, in San Antonio, Texas. Officials say the site is providing 1,500 vaccinations per day. [AP Photo | Eric Gay]
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar discussed the coming changes Tuesday on ABC’s Good Morning America, and he is expected to share more details about them at a midday press event.

The first of the changes is to stop holding second doses of vaccine in reserve, and instead ship more doses to states right away.

“We had been holding back second doses as a safety stock,” Azar said. “We now believe that our manufacturing is predictable enough that we can ensure second doses are available for people from ongoing production, so everything is now available to our states and our health care providers.”

The change in releasing more second doses of vaccine preempts a policy change the Biden team announced last week. Officials from the Biden team did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday’s policy announcements.

Second, the Trump administration will be calling on states to expand the pool of people eligible to receive vaccine to those 65 and older, and those with underlying health conditions that make them more susceptible to COVID-19.

Finally, the administration will urge states to expand vaccination to more venues, like convention center “mega-sites,” pharmacies and community health centers.

While the decision for who is eligible to get a vaccine is up to states, recommendations from the federal government are influential. The government had previously advised states to consider guidelines released by a federal advisory committee to the CDC. This group had carefully weighed the benefits of vaccinating various high-risk priority groups, and recommended that frontline essential workers and those over 75 be second in line, after health care workers and long-term care residents.

The Trump administration now appears to be disregarding those CDC recommendations in urging states to skip directly to the next, larger priority group.

The move by Trump administration officials “seems well intentioned, but it is incredibly confusing to the public and disruptive to those trying to implement these programs to keep switching up eligibility every few days,” notes Dr. Kelly Moore, deputy director of the nonprofit advocacy group the Immunization Action Coalition and a former immunization manager in Tennessee.

Azar also blamed the states for the sluggish rollout of the vaccination campaign. “The administration in the states has been too narrowly focused,” he said on ABC. “We have supplies that have not yet been ordered of vaccine.”

States and the federal government have traded accusations over who’s responsible for the slow pace of vaccinations. Democratic governors and lawmakers have both urged the Trump administration to make changes to the distribution to improve the speed of the process.

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