Just 5.3 million of the 17.3 million doses distributed have been administered in the United States — only 30.7%. That doesn’t come to close to the target the Trump administration set in the fall to administer 20 million vaccines to Americans by the end of 2020. So, many states are taking steps to speed things up.
“We cannot have vaccines sitting on the shelf,” he said.
“States all across the country feel beholden to the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices guidelines to vaccinate everyone in group 1a before they move to 1b and beyond and what I want people to know is these are guidelines,” Adams said.
“If the demand isn’t there in one location, move those vaccines to another location,” Adams said Tuesday on NBC’s Today show.
US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Wednesday that he has been encouraging governors to move ahead and use “every bit” of the vaccine.
“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 70 and over, 65 and over, you ought to be making sure that the nursing home patients are getting vaccinated,” Azar said on Wednesday.
States start shifting priorities
Some states are lining up members of the public for vaccinations.
In Georgia, fewer than a quarter of doses of the coronavirus vaccine that have been distributed have ended up in people’s arms, putting it near the bottom of all state efforts, according to data from the CDC. Until last week, Georgia was one of many states that had formally stuck to the guidance from federal health officials to first vaccinate only health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities before moving on to other vulnerable populations.
With vaccines sitting, the state is loosening its rules and shifting its priorities. The plan? Unleash the elderly populations.
In Charlotte, North Carolina on Wednesday, Atrium Health said it had shifted to Phase 1b based on guidance from the state and CDC advisory committee, and administered its first vaccine doses to the general public. It said “hundreds” had already scheduled appointments, which are required for vaccination.
“We’re working to ensure the distribution of the vaccine is inclusive and with as few barriers as possible,” Dr. Gary Little, chief medical officer at Atrium Health said in a statement. “Scheduling and receiving the vaccine when it’s available is the best way we can all take part in ending this pandemic, while saving many lives in the process.”
Other states are preparing to open up the line — but not just yet.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said Tuesday he hopes the state will start its next phase of the vaccine rollout in about two weeks, depending on vaccine availability. Ohio’s Phase 1b includes people 65 and older and people with certain medical conditions, as well as K-12 teachers and staff.
In Illinois, Governor JB Pritzker announced residents 65 or older could get the vaccine in the next phase, which will begin in “a few weeks.”
And in South Carolina, Gov. Henry McMaster set a January 15 deadline for the people in Phase 1a to get the vaccine. If these health care workers and nursing homes residents don’t sign up by then, they will be “moved to the back of the line” to make room the next groups.
‘A shoestring’ budget for massive vaccine effort
Despite pressures to speed up vaccinations, funding has been a major hurdle.
States turned in vaccination plans to the CDC in the fall, but they “weren’t given necessarily all the tools that they need to make this a success,” according to Jennifer Kates, the senior vice president and director of global health and HIV policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation.
On Wednesday the US Health and Human Services Department announced over $3 billion will go to states to help vaccinate people.
“Hopefully that will help, but it comes late in the process since states are already doing vaccine rollout, yet the resources haven’t been there,” Kates said.
“It’s basically a shoestring to pull off the most massive vaccine effort we’ve ever seen,” Kates said. “They might have plans on paper, but that doesn’t necessarily mean states were ready to implement it at full speed right away.”
But if states expand too fast, demand may be too great and cause more holdups and frustration for people who most urgently need vaccines.
“Nationally, it’s a little bumpy in some places and better in others, but it’s important to remember, we’re in the initial phases,” Kates said. “Hopefully that will get smoothed out.
“The last thing you want is for people to go get their vaccine and not be able to get it.”
CNN’s Deidre McPhilips, Tina Burnside, Melissa Alonso, Andy Rose, and Gisela Crespo contributed to this report.