U.S. States Throw Open Vaccine Eligibility Before May 1 Goal
(Bloomberg) -- More than a dozen U.S. states are expanding access to Covid vaccinations earlier than planned for every adult, accelerating the biggest such campaign in the country’s history and making long strides toward President Joe Biden’s May 1 deadline for eligibility.
Biden set the timeline last week, and officials since have announced strategies to beat his deadline in Connecticut, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Michigan, Montana, Ohio, Nevada, North Dakota, Idaho, Iowa, Illinois, Rhode Island and Utah. Others plan to move ahead with certain groups earlier than expected, such as Wisconsin, which will make more than a million people with underlying conditions eligible next week. On Friday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said that anyone 50 and older can get a shot next week.
“We’ll be opening it up to everybody certainly before May 1,” DeSantis said at a news conference in Tallahassee.
The U.S. has suffered from the pandemic more than other developed countries, with almost 539,000 dead after a disjointed response under former President Donald Trump. But the nation amassed a huge trove of vaccines that the current administration is pushing out as fast as possible.
Biden has set goals for the campaign that so far have been easily met. He said the U.S. on Friday will clinch his goal of administering 100 million Covid-19 vaccine shots in the first 100 days of his presidency, reaching the mark six weeks ahead of time. The state measures mean the nation likely will hit his May 1 mark. Biden has said the country could be almost back to normal by the July 4 holiday.
Betsy Chilton, 29, of Sioux City, Iowa said she’s looking forward to getting the vaccine now that eligibility will be expanded.
“Being a young, relatively healthy person, I’m definitely last in line, which is totally OK,” she said. “But we all have people that we care about that are elderly or in some way at risk. I want to be able to be around my grandparents and not be worried.”
The federal government has promised states an increased vaccine supply in coming weeks. Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont said on Twitter that supply allowed for a “quicker schedule than originally planned.”
The pace of vaccination has increased dramatically over the past two months, jumping from an average of about 800,000 doses a day in mid-January to 2.5 million doses a day this week, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker. On Thursday, Americans were up to 2.7 million shots.
The gains aren’t yet equitable. The inoculation campaign has reached a little more than 20% of the country, but not a single state has protected that share of its Black or Hispanic populations, according to a Bloomberg demographic analysis.
And opening eligibility doesn’t necessarily mean administration is going efficiently, said Ajay Sethi, an associate professor of population health sciences at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in Madison. In some cases, states are reaching the limits of vaccine acceptance.
For those still waiting to get it, he said, just knowing they’re eligible can make an emotional difference. “Sometimes people feel better standing in line than not having any line at all,” Sethi said Thursday. “Once a few states do it, other states decide to do it as well, especially if leaders are finding that they don’t want to hit the wall, they want to keep the momentum, they might as well open up the eligibility criteria.”
In Iowa, which took a laissez-faire stance on pandemic safety rules, all adults will be eligible to be vaccinated against Covid-19 during the week of April 5, Governor Kim Reynolds said this week.
But she cautioned that the projections could change. “Right now, if we’re able to ramp up in a manner they’re projecting and we’re ready to go, it’ll be good news for Iowans,” she said.
Large expansions of supply and eligibility will test states’ abilities to deliver shots. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who had previously complained of vaccine shortages, called it a “logistical nightmare” on a briefing call Wednesday.
“The Biden administration did a great job of securing more vaccines, but the allocation to the state increases dramatically in a very short period of time,” he said. “So we’re going to have to do millions and millions of doses.”
That’s leaving aside stagnation of demand. In Mississippi, which expanded access to all adults on Tuesday, officials at a news conference pushed the hesitant to get shots. They acknowledged that not everyone in priority groups had been fully vaccinated.
“We still have a long way to go,” said Paul Byers, state epidemiologist at the Mississippi Department of Health. “But our vaccine allocations are increasing. I think the time is right for us to continue to open it up and utilize that vaccine moving forward.”
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