HHS Releases Withheld COVID-19 Doses, Changes State Allocation Policy
HHS announced yesterday it will no longer stockpile millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses held to ensure Americans receive their second shot, but will distribute them immediately and give states two weeks to comply with new federal rules for dose allocation.
In an Operation Warp Speed briefing, HHS Secretary Alex Azar said the change in policy was the result of supply now exceeding demand. Azar said that confidence in the Pfizer and Moderna distribution networks allowed HHS to predict with greater certainty when doses will arrive at state centers, which helped contribute to the change in policy.
President-elect Biden is said to be planning a similar policy of releasing doses and is expected to provide further details this week. Asked if the new policy was influenced by the incoming administration’s strategy, Azar said OWS arrived at its recommendation independently.
Releasing the current stockpile of U.S. vaccines won’t prevent Americans from getting a booster shot, Azar pledged. If that does become a concern, the government would pause on giving first doses until it could guarantee a supply for both shots, he said.
The government will no longer allocate doses based on states’ per capita population. Instead, it will assign doses based on the pace of vaccine administration by each state and the size of its population over age 65.
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla expressed his support for expanding vaccine eligibility yesterday, claiming expanding access is what needed given the growing supply.
To comply with the new allocation policy, states will have two weeks to update their data. At the briefing it was suggested that problems in reporting data might account for why some states appear to be lagging and using only a low percentage of available vaccines.
Many states have been adhering to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance, which defined the first priority group for vaccinations as frontline healthcare workers and nursing home staff and residents, with the next priority group consisting of frontline essential workers and those over aged 75, followed by those age 65 and older.
But CDC Director Robert Redfield said those recommendations were not meant to hamstring states from rapidly vaccinating residents, adding that governors should focus on getting the vaccine quickly to those 65 and older and as well as those with co-morbidities.
Azar echoed this advice, saying that some states have been too conservative in allocating doses, and have been “micro-managing” their supply to make sure every member of the first priority group gets vaccinated before moving on to the next group. ― Jason Scott