US to speed up COVID shots as cases rise

Peter Szekely and Dan Whitcomb
·2-min read

The Trump administration has moved to accelerate vaccinations of Americans against COVID-19, releasing the rest of the doses it had been keeping in reserve and recommending states immediately open inoculations to those age 65 and over.

Health officials at the state and federal level have scrambled in recent days to step up vaccination programs that had given shots to only 9.3 million Americans, as coronavirus infections remain at record highs in many US states 12 days into the new year.

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

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

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

Azar said the administration, which had been keeping doses in reserve to make sure that all those who got a first inoculation receive their second shot on schedule, was now confident enough in the supply chain to release that stockpile.

Last week, a spokesman for President-elect Joe Biden said Biden, who takes office on January 20, would release more of the reserved doses.

The pace of vaccinations has risen to 700,000 per day nationwide and was expected hit one million per day within 10 days, officials said.

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

As of Monday night, the United States has reported a total of 22.5 million coronavirus infections and 376,188 deaths during the pandemic. Nearly 130,000 Americans were hospitalised with COVID-19 at midnight on Monday.

A Reuters tally has shown that the number of COVID-19 patients requiring hospitalisation may have leveled off, at least temporarily, although public health officials warn that further spread may still be seen from holiday gatherings.

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