States should expand access to Covid-19 vaccines to everyone 65 and older, as well as any adult with an underlying health condition that might raise the risk for complications of Covid-19, members of Operation Warp Speed recommended Tuesday.
The guidelines are intended to prompt faster distribution of the vaccines by making more people immediately eligible for vaccination, as well as expanding the potential locations where people can receive it. Of the more than 25 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine that have been delivered nationwide, just under 9 million shots had been put into Americans' arms as of Tuesday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Every vaccine dose that is sitting in a warehouse rather than going into an arm could mean one more life lost," Health and Human Services secretary Alex Azar said during a media briefing Tuesday, where he and other administration officials announced the recommendations.
Most states are still trying to get the vaccine to those in the first recommended phases of the rollout: health care workers, those over age 75 and front-line essential workers, such as firefighters and police officers, as well as teachers, corrections officers, U.S. postal workers, public transit workers and those whose jobs are essential for the food supply.
States will not be required to follow the guidelines. In a letter Monday to Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield wrote that the recommendations "should not be interpreted as regulation," and that the guidance "is meant to be flexible and adaptable."
Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and former health commissioner for Baltimore, praised the new efforts. "These are exactly the right steps that we need at this point to better align supply and demand," Wen said.
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Last week, President-elect Joseph Biden announced his administration planned to release all available doses of coronavirus vaccines to the states.
Operation Warp Speed had previously held back half of the doses in an effort to make sure recipients could receive their second dose. Both vaccines currently in use require two doses, three to four weeks apart, for maximum effectiveness. The administration will now release all available doses, Azar said, adding that the "approach continues to ensure that there will be a second dose available."
He predicted that within a week to 10 days, as many as 1 million vaccines could be administered each day. Operation Warp Speed officials had previously asserted that 50 million people would be vaccinated by the end of January.
The two vaccines currently available in the U.S. are from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech. A third vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson is in late-stage clinical trials. On Tuesday, the chief science adviser for Operation Warp Speed, Moncef Slaoui, said Johnson & Johnson is on track to provide results by the end of January, and could receive emergency use authorization by mid-February.