New Vaccine Strategy Could Delay Vital 2nd Shots
A federal flip-flop could risk confusion and delays in necessary booster shots
A new and controversial federal vaccine strategy goes against the advice of several scientists concerned it will generate further public confusion, create unrealistic expectations for vaccine availability, and potentially delay crucial second doses in the two-shot regime required for optimal protection.
Amid soaring daily case counts and rising deaths, outgoing Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar reversed course Tuesday and announced a plan to release all doses, rather than holding about half of them back for the necessary second shots. The reversal follows news last week that President-Elect Joe Biden aimed to do the same starting January 20.
But Azar went on to say that states should immediately make shots available to everyone 65 and older, plus others 16 and older with preexisting conditions that put them at greater risk for Covid complications. That adds a huge number of people to the tally of front-line health workers already at the top of the priority list. All told, the approach opens the floodgates of eligibility to half the U.S. population, and it will almost surely take months to produce and distribute enough doses to meet that demand, according to an analysis by science writer Helen Branswell for Statnews.
The Biden team thinks that the immediate addition of so many people “would stretch supply” and create expectations and demand that can’t be met, according to The Washington Post.
Azar’s turnabout comes just days after his own team discounted such a strategy shift.
“Suggesting changes to the FDA-authorized dosing or schedules of these vaccines is premature and not rooted solidly in the available evidence,” the Food & Drug Administration stated January 4.
“I understand some of the rationale to do this, but … it’s not really data-driven,” Norman Baylor, former director of the FDA’s Office of Vaccines Research and Review, argued earlier this week as scientists and policymakers were already deep into debating the idea. “It’s a very risky venture because if it fails, you’re in worse shape.”