Coronavirus: US/Europe

US govt steps up pace of Covid-19 vaccination

Trump administration releases stockpile, recommends jabs for those 65 and above

People queueing up outside a Covid-19 vaccination facility in Los Angeles, California, on Tuesday. As at Monday night, the United States had reported a total of 22.5 million coronavirus infections and 376,188 deaths, the most in any country. PHOTO: A
People queueing up outside a Covid-19 vaccination facility in Los Angeles, California, on Tuesday. As at Monday night, the United States had reported a total of 22.5 million coronavirus infections and 376,188 deaths, the most in any country.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

WASHINGTON • The Trump administration has moved to accelerate vaccination of Americans against Covid-19, releasing the rest of the doses it had been keeping in reserve and recommending that states immediately open inoculations to those aged 65 and above.

Federal and state health officials have scrambled in recent days to step up vaccination programmes that had given shots to only 9.3 million Americans as coronavirus infections remain at record highs in many states in the United States.

Many states had strict rules, giving shots to healthcare workers and nursing home residents first, telling "non-essential workers" they might wait months for their turn.

"We've already distributed more vaccine than we have healthcare workers and people in nursing homes," Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told ABC News on Tuesday.

"We've got to get to more channels of administration."

About 27.5 million doses have been distributed by the US government to states so far, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mr Azar said the outgoing administration, which had kept doses in reserve to make sure that all those who had a first inoculation receive their second shot on schedule, is now confident enough of the supply chain to release the stockpile.

Last week, a spokesman for President-elect Joe Biden, who takes office next Wednesday, said Mr Biden would release more of the reserved doses.

The pace of vaccination has risen to 700,000 shots a day nationwide, and is expected to hit one million a day within 10 days, officials said.

"Michigan and states across the country remain ready to get more shots in arms, which is why the Trump administration's decision to grant our request and release millions of doses of the vaccine is so crucial," Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer said in a statement.

Ms Whitmer is seeking permission from the US government to purchase 100,000 vaccine doses directly from manufacturer Pfizer.

  • 27.5m Estimated number of doses distributed by the US government to states so far, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Food and Drug Administration has authorised the vaccine from Pfizer and partner BioNTech, and a vaccine from Moderna, for emergency use.

As at Monday night, the United States had reported a total of 22.5 million coronavirus infections and 376,188 deaths, the most in any country. Nearly 130,000 Americans were hospitalised with Covid-19 at midnight on Monday.

A Reuters tally has shown that the number of patients requiring hospitalisation may have levelled off, although public health officials warn that further spread may still be seen from holiday gatherings.

California Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly cited promising trends in Covid-19 metrics statewide in recent days, including a slowing in confirmed daily case numbers and a levelling off in positive tests.

He also pointed to a slower rate in the uptick of Covid-19 hospitalisations, which at 5.5 per cent over the past two weeks marked the lowest rate of increase since last October, when California saw a week-on-week decline in hospitalisations.

The number of new Covid-19 hospitalisations statewide had fallen to about 2,500 admissions a day over the past two days from a daily average of about 3,500 admissions every 24 hours in previous days.

Dr Ghaly called that "the biggest signal to me that things are beginning to flatten and potentially improve".

The latest surge has potentially been compounded by a more infectious variant of the virus first seen in Britain and now found in at least 10 US states - California, Florida, New York, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Connecticut, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Texas.

Not all US governors welcomed Mr Azar's direction to widen the group of Americans eligible for vaccines.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said he would grudgingly agree to include people as young as 65 and those with pre-existing conditions, even though he personally opposes it. "The policy and the intelligence of the federal system eludes me," he told a news briefing.

Public health experts have said no US state has so far come close to using up its federal allotments of vaccines.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 14, 2021, with the headline 'US govt steps up pace of Covid-19 vaccination'. Print Edition | Subscribe