By Jared S. Hopkins and Peter Loftus
Changes by the federal government to speed up Covid-19
vaccinations will increase doses available but might not help
strapped health departments and hospitals give more shots more
quickly, public health and hospital officials said.
U.S. health officials said Tuesday that states should expand
vaccine eligibility to people 65 years and older as well as those
with pre-existing health conditions, a large group that most states
didn't expect to inoculate for weeks.
The U.S. will also stop holding back second doses, reversing the
strategy since the rollout began last month.
More doses could be helpful in bolstering supplies that have
been limited so far, public-health experts and hospital officials
said, but the changes might not achieve the goal of accelerating
the pace of vaccinations.
Part of the concern, the health and hospital officials said, is
whether hospitals and local health departments already strained by
Covid-19 surges and the vaccine rollout can handle vaccinating a
larger group of people earlier than expected.
"It may speed the pace up temporarily, but it isn't adding that
much vaccine to the pool of supply," said Dr. Marcus Plescia, chief
medical officer of the Association of State and Territorial Health
Officials. "The more we can do this in a systematic, organized and
logical way, the better off in the long run of ending this
More than 110 million people ages 16 years to 64 have high-risk
medical conditions, and about 53 million people are ages 65 years
and older, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
Federal health officials, announcing the new vaccine policy,
said it would help get shots more quickly to people at higher risk
of severe Covid-19, including the elderly and people with medical
"We need doses going to where they'll be administered quickly
and where they'll protect the most vulnerable," Health and Human
Services Secretary Alex Azar said Tuesday in announcing the
President-elect Joe Biden is expected to discuss his plans for
fighting the virus and improving the vaccination rollout.
So far about 10.3 million doses manufactured by Pfizer Inc. and
BioNTech SE and by Moderna Inc. have been administered out of 29.4
million distributed, the most recent federal figures show.
The rollout has started sluggishly, according to health experts
and officials, because of factors including a high number of health
workers on vacation during the holidays and the time that local
health departments and clinics have needed to fine-tune appointment
Mr. Azar pinned the blame Tuesday on shortcomings at the state
level, such as micromanaging by governors.
Some local vaccine planners said they were caught off guard by
the federal government's latest changes.
"This is a wholesale change out of the blue after months of
planning," said James Garrow, spokesman for the Philadelphia
Department of Public Health.
The city is still in the first phase of vaccinating health-care
workers and nursing-home residents, Mr. Garrow said, and will now
consider whether and how it can implement the new federal
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan expressed concern, during a news
conference Tuesday, that issues seen in states vaccinating adults
65 years and older such as phone systems crashing could arise if
his state implemented the changes.
"I don't want to cause more problems by throwing out the system
that's, while slow, working OK," said Mr. Hogan, a Republican, who
added that the state is doing about 16,000 vaccinations daily.
Mr. Hogan said he wanted to avoid long lines for vaccines and
doses running out while people are waiting.
In December, CDC advisers recommended that initial supplies go
to high-risk populations such as front-line health workers and
nursing-home residents. The panel said adults 65 years and older
should begin vaccinations only after doses were given to essential
workers and adults 75 years and older who wanted them.
Not all states followed the recommendations, with some such as
Florida and Texas offering shots to adults 65 years and older
Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for
Health Security, said blending the top few priority groups --
rather than waiting to finish vaccinating each one before moving on
-- would give states more flexibility to give out spare doses and
Yet Dr. Adalja and other public-health experts expressed concern
that state and local health departments don't have the staff and
vaccination sites to administer more shots faster.
The recent stimulus act provides about $8 billion for the
vaccination campaign, but it isn't clear how quickly state and
local health departments will get funding.
"Simply increasing supply doesn't address all of the
complexities of the greatest supply-chain undertaking we witnessed
during this pandemic," said Jessica Daley, a pharmacist and
executive with Premier Inc., which buys drugs and medical supplies
for about 4,100 hospitals.
Another concern, state and local health officials, said was the
U.S. government's plans to change in two weeks how it allocates
doses, to how quickly states are vaccinating from the size of their
That change could complicate planning for administering doses,
said hospitals and health officials, who added that they have been
struggling to know when their supplies would arrive or how many
they would receive.
"We need to be very careful promising people they're going to
get the vaccine this month, when we don't even know if we'll have
the vaccine," Dr. Helen Keipp Talbot, an infectious-disease
specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville,
Write to Jared S. Hopkins at firstname.lastname@example.org and Peter
Loftus at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
January 13, 2021 17:22 ET (22:22 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2021 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.