Amid criticism of a growing number of unused coronavirus vaccines sitting on shelves nationwide, a top federal official said Wednesday states should vaccinate older, vulnerable Americans.
“States can also accelerate vaccine administration by moving on to providing vaccinations to broader populations right now,” Alex Azar, secretary of Human and Health Services, said during a briefing. “There is no reason that states need to complete, say, vaccinating all health care providers before opening up vaccinations to older Americans or other especially vulnerable populations.”
Though a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) panel has advised prioritizing front-line medical workers and long-term care facilities first, states ultimately decide who should be first in line for vaccines. The panel, Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), previously noted there will likely be overlap between phases.
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Azar referenced a call with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has said the state will prioritize inoculating those 65 and older, in a shift from federal recommendations.
DeSantis told Fox News’ Tucker Carlson on Tuesday that Florida was the first state in the U.S. to begin vaccinating residents of long-term care facilities and the broader over-65 population.
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During the Wednesday briefing, Azar said it would be better to vaccinate lower-priority individuals than to let vaccines continue to go unused.
“It would be much better to move quickly and end up vaccinating some lower-priority people than to let vaccines sit around while states try to micromanage this process,” Azar said. “Faster administration could save lives right now, which means we cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”
Azar said the pace of vaccinations has seen “substantial increases in recent days,” and he joins other top federal officials with hopes that the pace of vaccinations will accelerate quickly in the coming weeks. Indeed, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, on a call Wednesday voiced high hopes for expedited vaccination pace in the coming weeks amid resounding criticism of a slow nationwide vaccination effort.
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Messonnier said the new vaccines were launched right around the holidays, and now that holidays are over she expects the vaccination pace to “escalate really quickly.”
As of Thursday morning, the U.S. had distributed over 17.3 million doses and at least 5.3 million doses had gone into Americans’ arms, according to data compiled by the CDC.