Trump administration makes sweeping changes to speed up pace of COVID-19 vaccinations

The Trump administration will no longer hold back the second dose of a coronavirus vaccine as part of a host of changes intended to speed up the pace of inoculations and make more vaccines available to the public. 

The sweeping changes are a major departure from current administration policy, and align with a plan unveiled by President-elect Joe Biden to release nearly every available vaccine dose.

The Trump administration has been holding back half of the available doses to ensure there is enough supply for everyone who is getting a first dose to later get a second dose as well.

In an interview on ABC's Good Morning America Tuesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said that policy has changed, effective immediately.

"We now believe that our manufacturing is predictable enough that we can ensure second doses are available for people from ongoing production," Azar said. “So everything is now available to our states and our health care providers.”

The changes were first reported by Axios.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 25.5 million doses have been distributed. The move will effectively double that amount.

Just last week, Trump officials criticized Biden for his plan to release more vaccine doses, calling it a decision "without science or data and is contrary to the [Food and Drug Administration's] approved label."

Azar said on Tuesday that the federal government's vaccine distribution has gone well, but the administration in the states has been "too narrowly focused.”

As a result, Azar said federal officials will also recommend that the vaccines will be made available to anyone 65 and over, and to adults who have preexisting conditions that put them at greater risk for severe illness.

"We have got to expand the group. We've already distributed more vaccine than we have health workers and people in nursing homes," Azar said.

In recent weeks, Azar and other Trump administration officials have been urging states to be flexible with priority groups, and allow lower-priority people to get vaccinated against COVID-19 if doses would otherwise go to waste.

Most states drew up plans that initially followed CDC guidance for the first phase of vaccinations. But rollout has been slow, marred by a lack of federal funding and unclear communication about the number of doses coming each week. 

The Trump administration pledged to vaccinate 20 million people before the end of 2020, but efforts have fallen far short of that goal, and only about 9 million people have received a shot. 

Azar also said on ABC that the administration will expand the venues where people can get vaccinated. He said states have been too focused on hospitals, and the administration will help them expand to places like community health centers and pharmacies.

“We’ve got to get to more channels of administration. We’ve got to get it to pharmacies, get it to community health centers," Azar said. "It has been overly hospitalized so far in too many states. We have the vaccine. The demand is there. We have supplies that have not been ordered."

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