HHS secretary recommends states open Covid vaccinations to older Americans, vulnerable groups

U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar speaks during a news conference in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, August 23, 2020.

Erin Scott | Reuters

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar on Wednesday urged states against “micromanaging” their allotted coronavirus vaccine doses, saying it’s better to get the shots out as quickly as possible even if they haven’t been able to vaccinate all of their health-care workers.

“There is no reason that states need to complete, say vaccinating all health-care providers, before opening vaccinations to older Americans or other especially vulnerable populations,” Azar told reporters during a press briefing.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has provided states with an outline that recommends prioritizing health-care workers and nursing homes first, but states can distribute the vaccine as they see fit.

Azar said Wednesday that states providing some “flexibility” around who gets the first doses “is the best way to get more shots in arms” faster. “Faster administration could save lives right now, which means we cannot let perfect be the enemy of the good,” he said. “Hope is here in the form of vaccines.”

More than 4.8 million people in the U.S. have received their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine as of Tuesday at 9 a.m. ET, according to the CDC. The number is a far cry from the federal government’s goal to inoculate 20 million Americans by the end of 2020 and 50 million Americans by the end of this month.

U.S. officials acknowledged vaccine distribution has been slower than they had hoped. Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told STAT News on Tuesday that she expects vaccine rollout to speed up “pretty massively” in the coming weeks.

“It’s the early stages of a really complicated task, but a task that we’re up for,” she told STAT.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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