The U.S. is lagging woefully in its administration of COVID-19 vaccines as the pandemic worsens. At the current national rate of about 500,000 vaccinations per day, it would take 420 days to inject just the first of two vaccine doses into the shoulders of the nation’s 210 million adults. The incoming Biden administration pledged to deliver 100 million doses in its first hundred days. But that’s still way too slow because the new, more transmissible COVID-19 virus variant will greatly boost the number of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths if it is left unchecked.
Currently, the Trump administration is holding back about half of the current stock of 40 million vaccine doses to deliver as second doses for those who have already received the first inoculation. Vaccine makers Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna are committed to producing 160 million doses over the next three months. Given those future supplies, American Enterprise Institute health care scholar James C. Capretta calculates that even if the pace of vaccinations jumps to 1 million per day, there would still be an excess of 86 million unused doses by the end of March. That is clearly unacceptable.
In the face of these considerations, the Biden team has decided to release all available doses for injection now. “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. He supports releasing available doses immediately, and believes the government should stop holding back vaccine supply so we can get more shots in Americans’ arms now,” said TJ Ducklo, a spokesman for Biden’s transition. Instead of waiting nearly two more weeks for the new team to implement this plan, Trump administration officials should immediately adopt this policy rather than clinging to their inflexible plan as the pandemic grows worse.
Former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb points out in The Wall Street Journal that vaccine production is speedily ramping up, so more of the current stock of 40 million doses should be used to inoculate people immediately since second doses would come from those new supplies. Gottlieb also argues that if stockpiles continue to build that the complicated vaccination program rules should be loosened and vaccinations should be offered to the general public based on age, which could be lowered from 75 to 65 if supplies allow.
“A vaccine that’s sitting on a shelf for weeks, waiting for its perfect recipient, doesn’t help snuff out the pandemic,” notes Gottlieb. The good news is that the incoming Biden administration apparently recognizes this fact.