Minister of Health and Human Services Alex Azar on Wednesday urged states not to micromanage their assigned coronavirus vaccine doses, saying it was better to get the shots off as soon as possible, even if they don't all have theirs Vaccinate healthcare workers.
"There is no reason states need to complete vaccination of all health care providers before opening vaccinations to older Americans or other high-risk populations," Azar told reporters during a news conference.
"When they use all of the vaccine that is allocated, ordered, distributed, shipped, and got it in the arms of the healthcare providers, that's all great," he added. "But if for some reason they are difficult to spread and you have vaccine freezers, you should definitely open them to people aged 70 and over."
US officials are trying to speed up the pace of vaccinations after a slower-than-expected initial rollout. The coronavirus pandemic in the US continues to grow. The nation has at least 219,200 new Covid-19 cases and at least 2,670 virus-related deaths every day, based on a seven-day average calculated by CNBC using data from Johns Hopkins University.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has given states an overview recommending that priority be given to healthcare workers and nursing homes first. However, states may distribute the vaccine at their own discretion.
Azar said Wednesday that states that offer some "flexibility" about who gets the first doses are "the best way to get more shots in the arms, faster". "Faster administration could save lives now, which means we can't let perfect be the enemy of good," he said. "Hope is here in the form of vaccines."
More than 4.8 million people in the US received their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine at 9:00 a.m. ET on Tuesday, according to the CDC. The number is a far cry from the federal government's goal of vaccinating 20 million Americans by the end of 2020 and 50 million Americans by the end of this month.
US officials admitted vaccine distribution was slower than hoped. Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told STAT News Tuesday that she believes vaccine adoption will accelerate "pretty massively" in the coming weeks.
"It is the beginning of a really complicated task, but one that we are ready for," she told STAT.
Global health experts had said distributing the vaccines to around 331 million Americans in just a few months could prove much more complicated and chaotic than originally thought. In addition to making adequate doses, states and areas also need enough needles, syringes, and bottles to complete vaccinations.
The logistics involved in obtaining and administering the vaccine are complex and require special training. For example, Pfizer's vaccine requires a storage temperature of minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit. Pfizer and Moderna vaccines cannot be re-frozen and must be given at room temperature and within hours, otherwise there is a risk of going bad.
Read More: The Long Road Of The Covid Vaccine: How Doses Get From The Manufacturing Plant To Your Arm
Azar also said the holidays likely played a factor in the slow adoption of the vaccines. Healthcare providers knew it would be difficult to hire millions of people for vaccinations by December.
Nearly 20 million doses of vaccine have been dispensed to more than 13,000 locations across the country, General Gustave Perna, who oversees logistics for President Donald Trump's Operation Warp Speed vaccination program, said during the same briefing.
The vaccine distribution is going "very well," he said, adding that officials are still working to improve the process. "Our goal is to keep the drum beat constant so that states have a cadence of allocation planning and then the appropriate allocation to the right places as indicated."
"We keep reevaluating the numbers, making sure that the distribution is in the right places [and] that it is running so that other decisions can be made about the allocations," he added.