The Trump administration will issue new guidelines on Tuesday extending eligibility for coronavirus vaccines to anyone aged 65 and over, a senior official told CNBC.
States’ focus on vaccinating health workers and nursing homes has created a bottleneck, the government official said. “States are being informed immediately that they will have to expand to include those over 65 and those under 65 with comorbid conditions,” the official said before the official announcement on condition of anonymity.
The government will also stop holding back millions of doses reserved for the second round of Pfizer and Moderna two-dose vaccines, the official said, adding that they had released doses that were held in reserve Sunday.
President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team announced Friday that his administration plans to release all cans held in reserve.
The Trump administration is expected to announce the change at a press conference Tuesday with representatives from Operation Warp Speed, the White House’s vaccination program.
US surgeon general Jerome Adams also confirmed the changes in an interview with Fox News on Tuesday morning.
“We will have clear instructions from the CDC to the governors that they should vaccinate people 65 years of age and older and those under 64 years of age with chronic illness,” he said.
US officials are trying to speed up the pace of vaccinations after a slower-than-expected rollout.
As of Monday morning, more than 25.4 million doses had been distributed in the US, but just over 8.9 million shots had been administered according to CDC data. The number is a far cry from the federal government’s goal of vaccinating 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 roll-out.
Democrats and some public health experts have criticized the government for the slow pace. In a letter Monday, Senate Democrats urged the government to make changes, saying it “failed” states by not providing detailed guidance on how to effectively distribute the doses.
The US “cannot afford to have this vaccination campaign continue to be hampered by the lack of planning, communication and leadership we have seen so far,” wrote Chuck Schumer, chairman of the Senate minority, and 44 other Democrats. “The metric that matters, and where we are clearly moving too slowly, is vaccines in weapons.”
In an attempt to speed up the pace of vaccinations, the Secretary for Health and Human Services, Alex Azar, and the Commissioner for Food and Drug Administration, Dr. Stephen Hahn, last week urged states to start vaccinating lower priority groups against Covid-19.
The CDC recommends immunizing health care workers and nursing homes first, but states are free to distribute the vaccine at their discretion. Hahn told reporters that states should give shots to groups that “make sense” such as the elderly, people with pre-existing conditions, police, fire departments and other key workers.
“We heard in the press that some people said, ‘OK, I’m waiting for all of my healthcare workers to be vaccinated. We have a vaccine intake of around 35%.’ I think it makes sense to “extend this to other groups,” said Hahn on Friday. “I would strongly encourage states to give the states the opportunity to be more expansive about who they can give the vaccine to.”
It is unclear whether increasing the eligibility will accelerate the pace of vaccinations. Some states, including Texas and Florida, have already expanded their eligibility criteria.