Public-health officials have grown frustrated by available COVID-19 vaccines not being used up quickly enough. So they’ve decided it’s time to massively expand the number of people who can get access to them.
A senior Trump administration source confirmed to The Daily Beast that the Trump administration is set to bring in new federal guidelines to recommend opening up the vaccines to everyone in America older than age 65, as well as anyone younger who has a pre-existing condition that could make them more vulnerable to the coronavirus. Vice President Mike Pence and other senior officials working on the vaccine are set to announce the guidelines on a call with the nation’s governors Tuesday. The news was first reported by Axios.
The earliest rules were aimed at immunizing the very highest-risk people—but that has now been blamed for the clunking pace of the rollout. On top of widening access, the government will no longer hold back doses for the second shot of the vaccine, and instead try to administer all available doses as quickly as possible.
According to one senior administration official, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar called two Operation Warp Speed board meetings in the last two days to finalize the guidelines and ensure all those involved with the vaccine distribution were equipped to follow through with the plan. Officials ironed out the details Monday in a White House coronavirus task-force meeting.
The new guidelines come after senior officials working with Operation Warp Speed, a public-private partnership to fast-track the vaccine, met last week at Camp David to discuss the need to ramp up vaccine distribution with the goal of increasing the vaccination rate nationwide. As The Daily Beast previously reported, officials, including Azar, proposed the idea of loosening the guidelines on who could receive the vaccination and when. States across the country had reported consistently low vaccination numbers and the initial idea was to give the shots that were set to expire on the shelf to anyone who wanted them.
As conversations with members of Operation Warp Speed developed, officials moved toward drafting and announcing new federal guidelines that would guide states in giving out the vaccine to individuals who fell outside of the original first tier of recipients as issued by the Centers for Disease Control last month. President-elect Joe Biden’s coronavirus task force made a similar decision last week and announced its intention to release all of the manufactured doses of the vaccine, rather than hold some of them for future second-dose distribution.
Officials working on the Trump administration’s vaccine effort say they have been in close contact with the Biden team over the last week about the new guidelines.
For weeks, states have reported consistently low vaccination rates. Governors have reported a range of issues, such as deliveries of doses being delayed and vaccination-reporting systems shutting down. As of last week 24 million doses had been allocated to states, with roughly 28 percent of those doses administered. Those numbers have improved since then but officials are still concerned about the slow uptake and see the new guidelines as the best way to speed up the rate at which people receive the vaccine.