The Trump administration has made major changes to speed up the rollout of the coronavirus vaccine, explaining that manufacturing has now reached adequate levels to stop holding vaccine second doses in reserve.
The original policy on vaccinations held half of the supply in reserve so that people could be sure to get their second doses three to four weeks after the first, but that meant only half as many people could be vaccinated initially.
“We now believe that our manufacturing is predictable enough that we can ensure second doses are available for people from ongoing production,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said. “So everything is now available to our states and our health care providers.”
The administration was hoping to get 20 million people vaccinated by the end of 2020, but only about 9 million people have been vaccinated so far even though 25.5 million doses have been delivered to date.
Federal officials said that the increased availability of the vaccine means that they are broadening their recommendations to include all Americans over 65 and those with pre-existing conditions who are at higher risk of severe illness from the coronavirus.
“We have got to expand the group. We’ve already distributed more vaccine than we have health workers and people in nursing homes,” Azar said.
States are also being urged to vaccinate people in lower-risk groups if those doses would otherwise go to waste.
Some hospitals in New York had to throw away up to 80% of their vaccine supplies after people didn’t show up to appointments and no one in eligible groups could get the vaccine.
Cuomo loosens restrictions in New York
After news reports of the waste broke, Governor Andrew Cuomo loosened restrictions on who could get the vaccine and added fines for not using the vaccines fast enough.
The vaccine is seen as a way to bring record-high case numbers down and get things back to normal, and a new poll shows that more people are willing to be vaccinated than was the case a month ago.
71% of people said they planned to get the vaccine when it was available, up from 63% in September, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported.
The World Health Organization said that herd immunity worldwide will not be reached until 2022, but the U.S. could reach it in 2021 if enough people get vaccinated.