The Trump administration is changing how coronavirus vaccines are distributed to states, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Tuesday.
Instead of distributing vaccines based on population, the administration instead distributes doses based on how quickly they can administer the shots as well as the size of the population over 65, Azar said.
States will have two weeks to prepare for the change, Azar said, which should give them time to improve their reporting to a federal database.
Azar suggested that some of the current slowness is a result of data reporting problems, and the change in the allocation method will give them an incentive to solve these problems.
“This new system gives states a strong incentive to ensure that all vaccinations are reported immediately, which they are not currently,”
“It gives states a strong incentive to ensure that doses work to protect people instead of sitting on shelves or in freezers,” he added.
The policy change would reward states that inoculate people quickly and come as top administration officials have complained about the slow pace of vaccinations.
Azar said states’ strict adherence to eligibility criteria has led to a bottleneck. The administration’s Operation Warp Speed has made nearly 25 million first doses available over the past month, but just over 9 million people have been vaccinated.
“We need doses where they need to be administered quickly and where they will protect the most vulnerable,” Azar said.
To this end, the administration is also pushing states to provide shots to anyone under the age of 65, regardless of underlying health conditions, as well as anyone under the age of 65 with an underlying condition. The administration is also releasing other doses of the vaccines it had kept in reserve in an attempt to double the number of available doses.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert RedfieldRobert Redfield A vaccine, a burrito and more: 7 easier, memorable moments from 2020 Who will get the vaccine next time? Not only seniors CDC: Only approx. 1 million Americans have received COVID-19 vaccine MORE said an increase after the holidays has created a sense of urgency.
“It’s going to be a difficult January and probably February, but with a vaccine and the new drugs we have, there’s a really bright light at the end of that tunnel when we go into March,” Redfield said. “We really need to commit right now to getting as many Americans vaccinated as we can, who are particularly the most vulnerable and at risk of hospitalization.”
But current Trump officials are no longer in charge in two weeks, and it is not clear whether the upcoming Biden administration will support such a change. Azar said Operation Wap Speed had not yet spoken to the transition team about the change.
“While we certainly want to inform the Biden team about these changes, we act as you know with one government at a time, and this is the approach that we believe best meets the mission and current situation we face today. “Azar said.
A spokesman for the Biden crossing did not respond to a request for comment.
If implemented, the change in policy could add even more headaches for state and local officials who are already struggling with what they say are insufficient resources and communication from the federal government.
It will ultimately be up to governors, state and local officials to decide who is eligible to receive the vaccine in their state. Many states are already pushing the original CDC recommendations on prioritization, but the updated recommendations could make distribution across the country a free-for-all.