FDA head urges states to start giving COVID-19 vaccines to elderly Americans and move on to lower priority groups in a desperate attempt to speed the US rollout’s glacial pace
- FDA Commissioner Dr Stephen Hahn said it’s ‘reasonable’ to vaccinate lower priority people if states’ doses are going unused
- The US has only vaccinated 6.25 million Americans with 21.5 million doses distributed to states
- States with rigid plans like New York’s are using far fewer doses than states like Connecticut which made their priority groups wide
The head of the Food and Drug Administration is urging states to start offering COVID-19 vaccines to more people in order to speed up the glacial pace of the US vaccination effort.
Unexpected vaccine resistance from top-priority health care workers and red tape from rigid state vaccination plans have dragged the pace of the rollout. Just 6.25 million Americans have received their first doses of vaccine.
‘We’ve heard in the press that some folks have said, ‘OK, I’m waiting to get all of my health-care workers vaccinated. We have about 35 percent uptake of the vaccine,” said FDA Commissioner Dr Stephen Hahn at a Friday Alliance for Health Policy meeting.
‘I think it reasonable to expand that.’
More than 21 million doses of coronavirus vaccines have been distributed to states, but fewer than 30 percent of them have been used.
Although health care workers and nursing home patients are considered top priority for vaccination, insisting upon only vaccinating them is creating a bottleneck in the rollout with up to 80 percent of nursing home and hospital staff are refusing shots.
FDA Commissioner Dr Stephen Hahn said he ‘strongly encourages’ states to vaccinate more people, expanding COVID-19 shot access beyond health care workers to speed the rollout
The US has vaccinated less than two percent of it population. Many of the states that lag furthest behind have the strictest programs for who can be vaccinated when
Hundreds of elderly people are lining up for coronavirus vaccines in Florida where a shortage of workers to administer shots is holding up the rollout there
‘I would strongly encourage that we move forward with giving states the opportunity to be more expansive in who they can give the vaccine to,’ Hahn said.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, for example has been adamant that no one in his state cut the line ahead of health care workers and nursing home patients.
But the state has only used about 38 percent of its doses. One clinic even had to throw out four doses of vaccine that were left out too long while staff waited for eligible recipients.
After that incident and calls from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio for state to expand eligibility, Cuomo finally revised rules so that people over 75, first responders, public transit and safety workers can now get vaccinated starting Monday.
Other states, such as Mississippi, which has given the smallest percentage of its vaccine doses of any state, with similarly strict priority groups have hit the same problem.
Hahn’s call echoes that of Health Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar’s comments earlier this week.
He warned states against ‘micromanaging.’
‘There is no reason that states need to complete, say, vaccinating all health-care providers, before opening vaccinations to older Americans or other especially vulnerable populations,’ he said during a Wednesday press conference.
The Family Health Center of Harlem (above) was forced to thrown out four doses of the Moderna vaccine after staffers refused the shot and no eligible recipients could be found
‘If they are using all the vaccine that is allocated, ordered, distributed, shipped and they are getting it into health-care providers’ arms, every bit of it, that’s great.
‘But if for some reason their distribution is struggling and they are having vaccine sit in freezers, then by all means you ought to be opening it up to people 70 and older.’
States that have implemented more flexible vaccine distribution plans have raced ahead of others.
Connecticut, for example, considered everyone from doctors to school nurses and custodians part of its highest priority vaccine group.
The state has used about 60 percent of its coronavirus vaccines, whereas New York – with its previous restrictions for just front line workers like ICU nurses and nursing home residents – has used half as many of its allotted doses.
President-elect Joe Biden is also hoping to speed vaccinations by releasing virtually all available doses of coronavirus vaccines as soon as possible, rather than holding back half the supply for booster doses, as the Trump administration has done, a transition team spokesperson told CNN.