- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 6, 2021

President Trump’s vaccine team said Wednesday that states should feel free to move beyond health workers and other priority groups if vials are sitting on the shelf, saying it’s unacceptable to allow doses to “sit around while states try to micromanage this process.”

Health Secretary Alex Azar said the priority phases recommended by federal advisers are sound guidelines but the goal is to immunize people quickly.

“They should never stand in the way of getting shots in arms,” Mr. Azar said in a media briefing on “Operation Warp Speed.” “The perfect cannot be the enemy of the good here.”

Army Gen. Gustave Perna said 20 million doses have been delivered to 13,000 locations throughout the country. The plan is to continue a “steady drumbeat” of allocation so states can prepare for distribution, he said.

Only 4.8 million doses have actually been administered, however, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracker.

Officials say there is a reporting lag. Mr. Azar also pointed to a slowdown around the winter holiday and said that nursing homes are gaining momentum in their push to inoculate residents and staff.

The federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices said health care workers and people in long-term care facilities should get the first round of shots, followed by people 75 and older and certain front-line workers.

But states have struggled with the deliberate nature of that process, prompting them to consider moving beyond the strictures if they can devise a way to use vaccine faster. It’s been messy, with reports of confusing signup portals and long lines of seniors at sites in Florida.

Hoping to ease the process, Mr. Azar said the federal government is enlisting pharmacy chains so that vaccines can flow to tens of thousands more sites and be distributed through an appointment system. The operation thinks it will lead to a “broader, deeper, wider” distribution of the vaccine.

Getting as many people immunized as possible is the ultimate goal, as the U.S. works toward the type of widespread immunity that will rein in the virus responsible for upending the economy and killing over 350,000 across the nation.

The U.S. is using messenger-RNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna that require two doses, 21 days and 28 days apart. Administration officials are eager to see data from a late-stage trial of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, which requires only one dose and would speed up the campaign.

Moncef Slaoui, the operation’s science adviser, said the J&J vaccine is on track for emergency-use approval before the end of the month.

Mr. Slaoui, a longtime vaccine developer, said he’s been asked to stay as a consultant but expects his role to “decrease gradually” after President-elect Joseph R. Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20.

“As long as I’m asked, I will be helping,” Mr. Slaoui said.

Gen. Perna said he’s ready to continue in his logistics role if he’s wanted.

“I have not been informed one way or the other, officially,” he said.

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