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FDA chief says states should expand vaccinations to lower-priority groups

President-elect Joe Biden pledges to release stored coronavirus vaccine doses to states, in reversal of current policy.
Image: A nurse draws the Moderna vaccine
A nurse draws the Moderna vaccine at a hospital in Hartford, Conn., on Dec. 21, 2020.Joseph Prezioso / AFP - Getty Images

The head of the Food and Drug Administration on Friday urged states to "strongly" consider vaccinating lower-priority groups, as the nation struggles to speed up coronavirus vaccination efforts.

The comments by FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn came as President-elect Joe Biden's team said his incoming administration would release all available doses of coronavirus vaccines to the states, in a reversal of current Trump administration policy, according to The Associated Press.

States have been giving vaccination priority to hospital employees, such as doctors and nurses, and long-term care patients.

"We've heard in the press that some folks have said, 'OK, I'm waiting to get all of my health-care workers vaccinated. We have about 35 percent uptake of the vaccine.' I think it reasonable to expand that" to other groups, Hahn told a gathering of the Alliance for Health Policy.

"I would strongly encourage that we move forward with giving states the opportunity to be more expansive in who they can give the vaccine to."

The U.S. government has been stockpiling a significant amount of vaccine to make sure there's enough to provide for the second necessary doses.

“The president-elect believes we must accelerate distribution of the vaccine while continuing to ensure the Americans who need it most get it as soon as possible,” said T.J. Ducklo, a spokesman for the Biden transition team.

Biden “supports releasing available doses immediately, and believes the government should stop holding back vaccine supply so we can get more shots in Americans’ arms now."

The move would allow many more Americans access that first shot. But it would put pressure on vaccine makers Pfizer and Moderna to ramp up production and make those second doses available.

The Pfizer vaccine requires a second dose about 21 days after the first, while the Moderna has a 28-day interval.

Word of the Biden transition plan came within hours of World Health Organization experts saying Friday there might be some more leeway for time between shots.

The agency said current data shows those 21- and 28-day gaps could be lengthened to as long as six weeks.

“WHO’s recommendation at present is that the interval between doses may be expended up to 42 days (6 weeks), on the basis of currently available trial data,” according to a statement by the agency’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on immunization (SAFE).

“Should additional data become available on longer intervals between doses, revision of this recommendation will be considered.”

More than 365,000 Americans have died since the pandemic reached U.S. shores, according to a rolling count by NBC News.

Biden's inauguration is set for Jan. 20.

This is a developing story, please refresh here for updates.