Boxes containing the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine are prepared to be shipped at the McKesson distribution center in Olive Branch, Mississippi, U.S. December 20, 2020.
Paul Sancya | Reuters
The federal government is changing the way it allocates coronavirus vaccine doses, now basing it on how quickly states can administer shots and size of their elderly population, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Tuesday.
States will be given two weeks to prepare for the change, Azar told reporters during a press briefing. That should gives states enough time to improve their data reporting to the government and ensure all vaccinations are being “promptly” documented, he said.
States aren’t currently reporting vaccinations in a timely matter, Azar said, adding that vaccine doses “are sitting in freezers in hospitals.”
The announcement comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issues new guidelines that expand coronavirus vaccine eligibility to everyone 65 and older as well as to those with comorbid conditions, like diabetes and heart disease. The states’ focus on vaccinating health-care workers and nursing homes has created a bottleneck, slowing the pace of vaccinations, a senior administration official told CNBC.
“States should not be waiting to complete phase 1a prioritization before proceeding to broader categories of eligibility,” Azar said Tuesday, explaining the new guidance. “Think of it like boarding an airplane. You might have a sequential order in which you board people. But you don’t wait ’til literally every person from a group is boarded before moving on to the next.”
The administration will also stop holding back millions of doses reserved for the second round of shots of Pfizer and Moderna’s two-dose vaccines, the official said, adding they’ve released doses that had been held in reserve on Sunday. President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team announced a similar plan on Friday.
Vaccine doses were previously allocated based on the number of adults in each state. But U.S. officials are complaining the pace of vaccinations has been too slow as the supply of vaccine doses exceeds demand.
As of Monday morning, more than 25.4 million doses had been distributed across the U.S., but just over 8.9 million shots have been administered, according to CDC data. The number is a far cry from the federal government’s goal of inoculating 20 million Americans by the end of 2020 and 50 million Americans by the end of this month.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.