Six days after state health officials unveiled careful plans for the next stages of prioritized coronavirus vaccination, the Trump administration asked governors nationwide to scrap much of that work and rapidly expand eligibility to receive doses.
Alex Azar, the federal secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), called for governors to allow vaccination of anyone over 65 and also anyone with a health condition that exacerbates the risk of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, during a news briefing Tuesday.
“State restrictions on eligibility have obstructed speed and accessibility of administration,” Azar said, blaming states for the slow pace of vaccination.
Azar said federal officials would no longer hold back vaccines from states to ensure booster doses were available, offered federal help to establish mass vaccination clinics and said the federal government would allocate shots, in part, based on which states were most successful at administering them. He said the federal government wanted to add access points for vaccination.
The abrupt federal policy shift on prioritization — which will make nearly a third of Americans eligible to be vaccinated — represents a departure from months of state planning and federal guidance on who should be eligible. It could hasten the rate of vaccination, but it also threatens to add further confusion to an already rocky rollout and raises questions on how best to ensure equitable access to vaccine.