Trump administration to increase eligibility to everybody 65 and older

The Trump administration will issue new guidelines on Tuesday extending eligibility for coronavirus vaccines to all 65 year olds and above, a senior administrative official told CNBC.

States’ focus on vaccinating health care workers and nursing homes has created a bottleneck, the official said. “States are being told immediately that they will need to expand to include those over 65 as well as those under 65 with comorbid conditions,” the official said, asking not to be named as this has not yet been officially announced.

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, President Donald Trump’s vaccination program.

US officials are trying to speed up the pace of vaccinations after a slower-than-expected initial rollout.

More than 25.4 million doses had been distributed in the U.S. as of 9 a.m. ET Monday, but just over 8.9 million shots had been administered, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 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 they “failed” states by not providing detailed instructions 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, Minister of Health and Human Services Alex Azar and 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 expand this to other groups, Hahn said on Friday at an event organized by the Alliance for Health Policy. “I would strongly encourage states 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.

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