US federal officials have agreed to send states additional coronavirus vaccine doses requested by several governors, as the country tries to increase the pace of inoculations, with the daily Covid-19 death toll hovering at 3,200.
Officials also recommended states broaden vaccination eligibility to people as young as 65 or those who have other chronic health conditions that make them vulnerable to severe Covid-19, drawing a mixed reaction from states that have tailored their inoculation priorities differently.
Releasing additional vaccine doses was called for last week by president-elect Joe Biden’s spokesman and nine Democratic governors, including Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer and the New York governor, Andrew Cuomo.
“Michigan and states across the country remain ready to get more shots in arms, which is why the Trump administration’s decision to grant our request and release millions of doses of the vaccine is so crucial,” Whitmer said in a statement.
Whitmer, who had backed the lower vaccination age, also said she was still awaiting a reply from the administration to her request to allow Michigan to purchase 100,000 vaccine doses directly from its manufacturer, Pfizer.
The US Food and Drug Administration has authorised the vaccine from Pfizer and partner BioNTech, and a second vaccine from Moderna, for emergency use.
The US health and human services secretary, Alex Azar, said on Tuesday the administration would release vaccine doses it was holding back for second shots, and called on states to offer them to all Americans over the age of 65 or with chronic health conditions.
The plan relies on enough manufacturing capacity to ensure all those who got a first vaccine dose get their second shot on schedule: either three or four weeks later depending on which vaccine they received.
Azar also said the pace of inoculations in the US has risen to 700,000 shots per day and is expected to rise to 1 million per day within a week to 10 days.
Cuomo said he would begrudgingly agree to widen vaccination eligibility to include people as young as 65 and those with pre-existing conditions, even though he personally opposes it. “The policy and the intelligence of the federal system eludes me,” Cuomo told a news briefing.
Cuomo said including people who are immunocompromised, a poorly defined category he said could include smokers and the obese, could have more than 7 million of New York state’s 19 million residents vying for the 300,000 doses received each week by the state.
Cuomo initially targeted inoculations to healthcare workers and nursing home residents. Late last week, he agreed to include several groups of essential workers and people over the age of 75.
One encouraging sign over the past week is that the number of Covid-19 patients requiring hospitalisation has levelled off, at least temporarily, with 129,105 patients reported on Monday, according to a Reuters tally.
Health officials have expressed concern the effects of virus-spreading holiday gatherings have not yet been fully felt. Another potential super-spreader event erupted on Monday night in Tuscaloosa, as thousands of University of Alabama football fans jammed the streets to celebrate the team’s win over Ohio State University to capture its 18th national title.
In Washington, two US lawmakers have tested positive for the virus so far after being locked down for hours with other colleagues, including Republicans who refused to wear face masks, to avoid the mob that attacked the US Capitol last Wednesday.