(Bloomberg) -- U.S. health officials are encouraging states to widen access to Covid-19 vaccines as the federal government sends them more shots, a dramatic about-face amid an outcry over the stumbling immunization campaign.
Federal officials are pushing states to expand the shots’ availability to anyone 65 and older, regardless of underlying conditions that might put them at greater risk of severe disease, and anyone 65 or younger with such a condition.
The U.S. government also will release second doses of the vaccines it had been holding back to ensure people could receive the full course, indicating confidence that drugmakers can manufacture enough shots to meet demand.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar at a briefing Tuesday renewed his criticism of states for being overly specific in vaccination priorities, saying those lists have slowed the campaign to get shots into arms. More states should also start widening vaccine distribution sites to include pharmacies, clinics and other providers, Azar said.
Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s vaccine-development and distribution initiative, had been holding back some doses of the two-shot vaccines in a bid to ensure that those who have received one can get their second. Biden’s office last week said it wouldn’t continue to reserve doses for second shots in response to the slower-than-anticipated rate of vaccination in the U.S.
Azar said officials have more confidence in vaccine-manufacturing processes, making them comfortable to start releasing all available doses rather than hanging onto them.
The tally of doses administered in the U.S. has been picking up, rising by 1.25 million Monday, a record daily gain, to 9.27 million, according to Bloomberg’s vaccine tracker.
Operation Warp Speed plans to start allocating doses to states based on their vaccination rates, in a change from its current policy to distribute shots based on states’ populations, Azar said. The new policy would take effect in two weeks so states have time to prepare, he said.
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