States Urged to Widen Vaccination Pool Amid Slow U.S. Start

Top U.S. health officials encouraged states to start vaccinating people more widely, acknowledging that the immunization rollout has been slower than anticipated and opening the spigot for a broader range of Americans to begin getting shots.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar during a call with reporters Wednesday blamed the introduction of Covid-19 shots around the holidays and overly detailed state plans for hindering the vaccination campaign. He urged governors to vaccinate more seniors and other high-risk populations to prevent shots from sitting in freezers.

States Urged to Widen Vaccination Pool Amid Slow U.S. Start

If governors “are using all of the vaccine that is allocated, ordered, shipped, distributed, they’re getting it into health-care providers’ arms, that’s great,” Azar said. “But if for some reason their distribution is struggling and they’re having vaccines sit in freezers, then by all means you ought to be opening up to 70 and over, 65 and over. You ought to be making sure the nursing home patients are getting vaccinated.”

About 5.2 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines from Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE and Moderna Inc. have been administered in the U.S. since mid-December, according to data compiled by Bloomberg News. That represents about 31% of doses distributed so far, according to Bloomberg’s tracker.

Accelerating Plans

Azar and other officials from Operation Warp Speed said they expect vaccinations to start accelerating, though they declined to provide the number of shots being administered daily and how many they expect to be given by the end of the month. National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins earlier Wednesday during an interview with the Washington Post said he expects the U.S. to give about 1 million shots per day, a number to which Operation Warp Speed officials declined comment.

HHS announced it will give $3 billion to states, territories and some cities to support Covid-19 vaccinations. The department also will provide $19.1 billion to jurisdictions for testing, contact tracing and other pandemic mitigation measures.

Azar said the administration has been examining factors that have slowed the rollout over the past few weeks. Operation Warp Speed will tap its partnership with more than a dozen pharmacy chains earlier than anticipated to increase vaccinations. Azar said states can start sending doses to participating locations.

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