President-elect Joe Biden will aim to immediately release nearly all available doses of the coronavirus vaccine when he assumes office, a transition spokesman said Friday. The move could help expedite the mass-vaccination campaign currently underway by allowing more Americans to receive the first course of the two-dose shot. The news, first reported by CNN, is a major departure from the federal government’s current approach to the vaccine rollout; the Trump administration has withheld half of the available supply to ensure that second doses are available for those who receive the first shot.
“The President-elect believes we must accelerate distribution of the vaccine while continuing to ensure the Americans who need it most get it as soon as possible,” Biden transition spokesman TJ Ducklo said, adding that the president-elect “believes the government should stop holding back vaccine supply so we can get more shots in Americans’ arms now.”
The immediate release of available doses could ramp up the availability of the vaccine at a particularly urgent time in the pandemic, as hospitalization and death rates are skyrocketing. However, the strategy also presents risks, CNN reports: Both of the coronavirus vaccines available for emergency use are two-dose shots that must be administered at specific intervals, and it may be difficult to ensure that second doses are available at the appropriate time because of the slower-than-expected pace at which vaccine manufacturing has operated.
Biden’s announcement follows a letter sent Thursday by a coalition of governors — including New York’s Andrew Cuomo and California’s Gavin Newsom — to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Operation Warp Speed chief operating officer General Gustave Perna, urging the top health officials to release the federal government’s “reserved doses” of the COVID-19 vaccine to states in need.
“Our states are ready to work around the clock to ramp up distribution, get more shots in arms, and save more American lives. General Perna, as you have stated before, ‘a vaccine sitting on a shelf is not effective,’” the governors said. “We couldn’t agree with you more. That’s why we are asking for your help now. When we work together, we can end this pandemic and return to a life of normalcy sooner.”