RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – The Department of Health and Human Services announced Tuesday they would now ask states to stop holding back on COVID-19 vaccine doses.
States were initially holding back doses to ensure that there would be enough for people come back for the recommended second dose. Federal public health officials said they hope this can help speed up the pace of vaccinations.
So far, local health departments are still digesting this new recommendation. Wake and Orange counties said they would continue with their current plan unless otherwise instructed by the state.
“Many of us who have been in the business of giving out vaccines to people and getting them in, really have been limited by the supply,” said Dr. David Wohl, infectious disease expert at UNC Chapel Hill.
The Department of Health and Human Services said releasing all doses from storage should fix that. They said Tuesday there was currently more supply than orders coming in.
“Every vaccine dose that is sitting in a warehouse rather than going into an arm could mean one more life lost or one more hospital bed occupied,” said Alex Azar, DHHS Secretary.
A new strategy or a gamble?
DHHS is counting on manufacturing enough doses in time to go back and vaccinate people again. That second dose needs to be given within a 21 or 28 day time frame depending on the vaccine.
Azar said manufacturing was predictable enough at this point to know those doses would be available. Federal health officials said if something were to go wrong, they would prioritize doses to people coming back for a second vaccine.
“I don’t think we should be playing around with that kind of dosing. We should be doing the dosing called for in the trials,” said Wohl.
There is not enough to know for sure what happens if a second dose is not followed in the time-frame recommended.
Facing one change after another
This update to recommendations comes shortly following the state’s change in its plan to include people 75 and older. This came after the CDC recommendation changed months after asking states to submit a plan and a week into vaccinations started.
The latest recommendation could be a challenge for some counties who still have not figured out how to vaccinate that 75 and older group.
“Unfortunately we’re seeing the consequences of that here where everyone is inventing their own wheel,” Wohl said.
Learn about your county’s vaccination plan by clicking here.
People 65 and older, or under 65 with health conditions next
DHHS also recommended states start vaccinating people 65 and older or those under 65 with health conditions.
“We would rather have some lower priority individuals be vaccinated along with the high-priority individuals if it makes us go fast,” Azar said.
Dr. Wohl said he is optimistic about the recommendations and they can be a good thing. Still he thinks the administration needs to guarantee there’s enough to go around.
“It’s a promise that’s being made and we want to make sure that our government is keeping that promise,” said Wohl.
DHHS also announced Tuesday they would start prioritizing shipments to states who are able to vaccinate people more quickly.