By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Jan. 06, 2021) -- Uptake of newly-available COVID-19 vaccines from both Pfizer and Moderna has not been as fast in some places as expected. State governors have been encouraged to expedite uptake, if needed, by expanding eligibility for those vaccines to ensure that no vaccine goes wasted.
"States can ... accelerate vaccine administration by moving on to providing vaccinations to broader populations right now," Alex M. Azar, the secretary of Health and Human Services, said during an Operation Warp Speed briefing today. "There is no reason that states need to complete, say, vaccinating all health care providers before opening up vaccinations to older Americans or other especially vulnerable populations."
Azar said how vaccines are delivered to Americans is entirely up to the states -- not the federal government. Bearing that in mind, he said, it's more important now to get the vaccine into arms quickly, to save lives, than it is to keep it locked up until Americans in the right candidate pools step up to get their shot.
While the CDC and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices have made recommendations about who should get the vaccines first -- healthcare workers are high on that list -- Azar reiterated that they are just recommendations.
"They should never stand in the way of getting shots in arms, instead of keeping vaccines in the freezer, or even, heaven forbid, wasting a dose of vaccine in a vial," Azar said. "It's more important to vaccinate. I have encouraged our governors, and I will continue to do so, that if they are using all of the vaccine, that is ... allocated, ordered, distributed, shipped -- and they're getting it into healthcare provider's arms, every bit of it, that's great. But if for some reason their distribution is struggling, and they're having vaccines sit in freezers, then by all means you ought to be opening up to people ... 65 and over. You ought to be making sure that the nursing home patients are getting vaccinated."
Army Gen. Gustave F. Perna, the chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed, said right now, OWS is focused on ensuring that states have the vaccine they need when they need it.
"Nearly 20 million doses of vaccine [have been] already delivered," Perna said. "We have delivered that to over 13,000 different locations throughout the United States ... simultaneously, fair and equitable distribution of vaccines so that everybody has the opportunity to distribute simultaneously to the American people. I would tell you that it's going very well and our goal is to maintain the steady drumbeat so that the states have a cadence of allocation, planning and then the appropriate distribution to the right places, as designated."
Another way to speed up vaccine delivery, Azar said, will be with the early launch of the federal "Pharmacy Partnership" program, which will eventually cover more than 40,000 pharmacy locations within 19 pharmacy chains and associations across the U.S.
"This partnership allows states to allocate vaccines directly to these partners and these partners can then administer vaccines to particular groups, like those over a certain age or in certain occupations, and eventually to the general public," Azar said. "To help give states as many options as possible for vaccine administration, we're launching the program this week and states can choose particular partners to send vaccines to now."
Those partners can then provide easier access to vaccines in settings that might be more convenient and efficient to Americans, Azar said.
OWS is a partnership between the Defense Department and the Department of Health and Human Services. Specific DHS components involved include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.