WASHINGTON — The federal government plans to shift the way vaccine doses are allocated among states, allowing some governors to turn down doses they don't need or want, as President Joe Biden pushes to get at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine to 70 percent of adults by July 4.
Administration officials told governors on Tuesday that if a state doesn’t want all of its allocation, then the vaccines will go into a pool and be redistributed to states that need them, a senior administration official said. For weeks, some states, like West Virginia, have been reporting unused doses as demand wanes, while others, like Michigan, have clamored for more.
“It's really just an indication that we’re at a different phase now then we were even a couple of weeks ago in terms of access to supply, and we want to ensure that we free up unused and unordered doses,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday.
The move comes as Biden is also aiming to have 160 million Americans vaccinated with both doses by Independence Day, a senior administration official said. Currently, 56 percent of adults have had at least one shot and 105 million are fully vaccinated, the official said. To get to that remaining group, Biden said the federal government will be making the vaccine easier to access, encouraging companies to offer incentives for people to get the shot and ratcheting up the messaging campaign to those with safety concerns.
“Now we're going to have to bring the vaccine to people who are less eager," Biden said. "So we also know that there are millions of Americans who just need a little bit of encouragement to get the shot."
To meet those goals, the U.S. plans to administer an additional 100 million doses in the next 60 days, a significant slowdown in the pace of vaccinations compared to the last 100 days.
Biden laid out several new steps the administration is taking to try to reach those who have yet to be vaccinated, including using $860 million from the Covid-19 relief bill passed in March to help fund rural health clinics and hospitals and $250 million in funding for community organizations to help with vaccine education and outreach.
Among those harder to reach groups the administration is targeting are communities in largely rural states, like Mississippi, Utah and Alabama, which have some of the lowest vaccination rates in the country. To make it easier for Americans in rural communities to access the vaccine, the administration will be sending doses directly to thousands of health clinics in those areas.
The U.S. will also require all retail pharmacies receiving vaccine doses from the federal government to offer walk-up vaccinations that don’t require an appointment and is encouraging states to do the same at their sites. The Federal Emergency Management Agency will be increasingly sending out mobile vaccination units and setting up small, temporary vaccination sites to get to harder to reach groups.
"I think the end of the day, most people will be convinced by the fact that their failure to get the vaccine may cause other people to get sick and possibly die," Biden said.
Should the Food and Drug Administration give clearance for the Pfizer vaccine to be used in 12 to 15 year olds — a decision expected to be made by next week, according to a senior administration official with knowledge of the situation — the federal government plans to immediately ship doses to pediatricians and family doctors and make it available at 20,000 locations for that age group.
One senior administration official said that the 70 percent mark won’t necessarily mean the U.S. has reached herd immunity because public health officials don't know the precise level where that will be achieved. But it will enable further restrictions to be lifted and life to return closer to normal.
“The more you vaccinate people, the more you can pull back on some of the public health restrictions,” a senior administration official said. If the U.S. is able to reach the 70 percent goal, “we can do what we all want to do, which is to continue and gradually pull back on the restrictions, so that we can get back to our normal lives.”