US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Tuesday the federal government will no longer hold back coronavirus vaccine doses it kept in reserve, and it is asking states to open vaccinations to people 65 and older and people with chronic conditions who are at higher risk of severe disease.
He said the federal government would no longer hold back doses of vaccine to ensure that people who got their first doses would get second doses, too.
“We can now shift all of the dose that have been held in physical reserve,” Azar said.
Plus, states should vaccinate more people.
“We are telling states they should open vaccinations to all people … 65 and over and all people under age 65 with a comorbidity with some form of medical documentation,” Azar said, stumbling slightly over the wording.
Azar framed the change, which matches an approach announced by the incoming Biden administration, as something that had been part of the plan all along.
A senior administration official told CNN on Tuesday the shift follows two Operation Warp Speed meetings Azar held over the past 48 hours on how to speed up the lagging process.
Azar defended the slow and often chaotic rollout of vaccines.
“Several triggers have brought us to that point – nearly 38 million total doses of vaccine to date, including about 25 million first doses, have been made available for states to order against,” he told a news briefing.
Azar blamed states for the slow rollout. “In some states, heavy handed micromanagement of this process has stood in the way of vaccines reaching a broader swathe of the vulnerable population more quickly,” Azar said.