The Trump administration will issue new guidelines Tuesday that expand coronavirus vaccine eligibility to everyone 65-years-old and above, a senior administration official told CNBC.
The states’ focus on vaccinating health-care workers and nursing homes has created a bottleneck, the official said. “The states are being told immediately they need to expand to 65-plus as well as those under 65 with comorbid conditions,” the official said, asking not to be named because it hasn’t been formally announced yet.
The administration will also stop holding back millions of doses reserved for the second round of shots of Pfizer and Moderna’s two-dose vaccines, the official said, adding they released doses that had been held in reserve on Sunday.
President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team announced Friday that his administration planned to release all doses held in reserve.
The Trump administration is expected to announce the change at a press conference Tuesday with officials from Operation Warp Speed, President Donald Trump’s vaccine program.
U.S. officials are trying to pick up the pace of vaccinations after a slower-than-expected initial rollout.
As of Monday at 9 a.m. ET, more than 25.4 million doses had been distributed across the U.S., but just over 8.9 million shots have been administered, according to data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The number is a far cry from the federal government’s goal of inoculating 20 million Americans by the end of 2020 and 50 million Americans by the end of this month.
State and local health officials have said they are strapped for cash. They blame insufficient funding and inconsistent communication from the federal government for the slow rollout.
Democrats and some public health experts have criticized the administration for the slow pace. In a letter dated Monday, Senate Democrats demanded the administration make changes, saying it has “failed” states by not providing detailed guidance on how to effectively distribute the doses.
The U.S. “cannot afford this vaccination campaign to continue to be hindered by the lack of planning, communication, and leadership we have seen so far,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and 44 other Democrats wrote. “The metric that matters, and where we are clearly moving too slowly, is vaccines in arms.”
In an attempt to pick up the pace of vaccinations, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn last week urged states to begin vaccinating lower-priority groups against Covid-19.
The CDC recommends immunizing health-care workers and nursing homes first, but states can distribute the vaccine as they see fit. Hahn told reporters that states should give shots to groups that “make sense,” such as the elderly, people with preexisting conditions, police, firefighters and other essential workers.
“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% uptake of the vaccine.’ I think it reasonable to expand that” to other groups, Hahn said Friday during an event hosted by the Alliance for Health Policy. “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.”
It’s unclear if expanding the eligibility will pick up the pace of vaccinations. Some states, including Texas and Florida, have already expanded their eligibility criteria.