TUESDAY, Jan. 12, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- The Trump administration is expected to announce plans on Tuesday to recommend a coronavirus vaccine for every American over 65, as it tries to speed up the nation's vaccine rollout.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is expected to announce the new guidelines at a noon briefing, according to an official briefed on the plans who was not authorized to speak publicly about the change, The New York Times reported. Axios first reported the new guidelines Tuesday morning.
Health officials also plan to recommend that coronavirus vaccines be given to all adults with pre-existing conditions that make them more vulnerable to severe COVID-19 infection, the Times reported. Right now, the vaccines are largely being distributed to people in the highest-risk categories, including frontline health care workers and older people and staff in nursing homes. More community centers and pharmacies will also be added to the list of places where people can be vaccinated, the Times reported.
The HHS will no longer hold back vaccine doses to ensure that those who receive a first dose will have a second dose in reserve. Instead, all existing doses will be sent to states to provide initial inoculations, the Times reported.
Just days ago, President-elect Joseph Biden's aides said his administration would make a similar adjustment by using more of the already procured vaccines for initial doses. Biden's team said it would aim to distribute the doses more quickly at federally-run vaccination sites in high school gyms and sports stadiums, and send mobile units to reach high-risk populations.
Biden Gets Second Dose of COVID Vaccine
President-elect Joe Biden received his second dose of a coronavirus vaccine on Monday and announced that he plans to outline more of his pandemic response plan on Thursday.
Biden got his first shot of the Pfizer vaccine on Dec. 21. Since then, about 60,000 more Americans have died from COVID-19, the Associated Press reported.
The Pfizer vaccine requires a second shot about three weeks after the first vaccination. Moderna's vaccine requires a second shot about four weeks afterward. One-shot vaccines are promising and in the pipeline, but still undergoing testing, the AP reported.
After his shot, Biden said he has confidence in his COVID-19 medical team to hit ambitious vaccination rate targets after he takes office on Jan. 20. He also called the current rate of thousands of people dying daily because of the pandemic "beyond the pale."
"The No. 1 priority is getting vaccines in people's arms as rapidly as we can," Biden said.
Biden's transition team has vowed to release as many vaccine doses as possible, rather than holding back millions of doses to ensure there will be enough supply to allow those getting the first shot to get a second one.
However, the Biden plan would not involve cutting two-dose vaccines in half to stretch supply, a strategy that top government scientists oppose. Instead, it would accelerate shipment of the first doses and use the levers of government power to provide required second doses in a timely manner.
As of Monday, nearly 25.5 million doses of coronavirus vaccines have been distributed and nearly 9 million have made their way into patients' arms, CNN reported. That falls far short of the Trump Administration's original goal of vaccinating 20 million Americans by Jan. 1.
More infectious COVID variant now seen in nine states
The more contagious coronavirus variant that has brought Britain to its knees in recent weeks is showing signs that it is spreading widely throughout the United States, health officials and experts say.
Indiana joined Texas, Pennsylvania and Connecticut joined California, Florida, New York, Georgia and Colorado on Monday with reports of variant cases, the Washington Post reported. A South African variant that is also more contagious hasn't been detected in the United States yet.
Scientists also say they cannot rule out the possibility that an undetected U.S. variant is accelerating the rapid spread seen in recent weeks.
"It could be -- a possibility -- that we have our own mutant that's being more easily transmissible," Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Monday. "We don't know. We're looking for it. . . . If you look at the slope of our curve, which is very steep, it looks a bit like the curve in the U.K."
On Monday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said its strain surveillance program is on track to more than double the number of genomic sequences being uploaded to public databases by the end of the week.
"The general consensus is there's no single variant driving current U.S. cases. That said, we need to be on the lookout for these variants of concern," Duncan MacCannell, chief science officer with the CDC's Office of Advanced Molecular Detection, told the Post on Monday.
Other scientists agree.
"We don't see any evidence of a particular variant 'outrunning' others," Kristian Andersen, an immunologist at the Scripps Research Institute, told the Post. "That's not to say there isn't one, but we haven't seen any evidence of it so far and we are looking, just not enough."
William Hanage, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told the Post that "surveillance is such that we'd not detect any such variant until it was already emerged and well-established."
Andersen said the British and South African variants will likely become dominant in the United States within months. "Our mitigation efforts are woefully insufficient to deal with those," he warned.
While the variants show no signs of being more deadly than the original version of the virus, they could send more people into hospitals, up the number of COVID-19 deaths, and prolong the effort to reach herd immunity in this country, the Post reported.
Herd immunity will be reached when the virus encounters enough people with immunity that it dies out. Unfortunately, the percentage of people who need to be immune for a population to achieve herd immunity is higher for more infectious pathogens.
"We are in a race against time," said Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist with the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore. "We need to increase our speed in which we act so that we don't allow this virus to spread further and allow this [British] variant to become the dominant one in circulation. The clock is ticking."
A global scourge
By Tuesday, the U.S. coronavirus case count passed 22.6 million while the death toll passed 376,000, according to a Times tally. On Tuesday, the top five states for coronavirus infections were: California with over 2.7 million cases; Texas with nearly 2 million cases; Florida with nearly 1.5 million cases; New York with over 1.1 million cases; and Illinois with more than 1 million cases.
Curbing the spread of the coronavirus in the rest of the world remains challenging.
In India, the coronavirus case count was more than 10.4 million Tuesday, a Johns Hopkins University tally showed. Brazil had over 8.1 million cases and over 203,580 deaths as of Tuesday, the Hopkins tally showed.
Worldwide, the number of reported infections passed 90.9 million on Tuesday, with over 1.9 million deaths recorded, according to the Hopkins tally.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on the new coronavirus.
SOURCES: CNN; CBS News; Washington Post; New York Times; Reuters