The Biden administration is urging U.S. health care providers to stop holding back Covid-19 vaccine doses intended to serve as patients' second shots.
Stockpiling 2nd doses 'does not need to happen'
Andy Slavitt, a senior adviser to the White House's Covid-19 response team, on Monday acknowledged that some health care providers are holding on to vaccine doses in order to ensure that patients who receive their first shot of the inoculations also can receive their second shot. Currently, the United States' two authorized Covid-19 vaccines each require that patients receive two doses of the inoculations a few weeks apart.
But Slavitt said the federal government is confident providers will receive a steady supply of Covid-19 vaccine doses that can serve as patients' second shots. Therefore, stockpiling doses "does not need to happen and should not happen," Slavitt said.
Slavitt said federal officials "completely understand that" the practice of stockpiling second doses of the vaccines "has been a direct result of the lack of predictability many states and providers have had regarding how many doses that they would receive." However, Slavitt said the Biden administration is dedicated to giving states three-weeks' notice of their incoming vaccine allocations so they can be better prepared.
"With this action, states and vaccine providers will more rapidly use their allotment of first doses to vaccinate as many people as quickly and as equitably as possible, because they now have the predictability" that second shots will be available when needed, Slavitt said.
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical advisor for the White House's Covid-19 response team, acknowledged that providers still should prioritize giving second doses to patients who've received their first doses before administering first doses to other patients. However, he said providers can ensure that happens with doses from future shipments.
"If you give 50 million doses to individuals and then the next time around you get more doses when you're at that third or fourth week, the first priority will always be to get the people who've gotten their first doses to get their second doses. And then, additional doses will be given to the next group of people who will get their first doses," Fauci explained. That way, every available dose is going into someone's arm, he said.
The officials' comments come as the Biden administration works to accelerate America's Covid-19 vaccine rollout. CDC data shows that, as of Monday morning, the federal government had distributed about 50 million doses of the United States' authorized Covid-19 vaccines. According to CDC's data, a total of about 32.2 million doses of the vaccines had been administered to Americans as of Monday morning. Of those, about 26 million Americans had received "one or more doses," and about 5.9 million had received two doses, the data shows.
Biden admin announces $230M deal for at-home coronavirus tests
The Biden administration also is looking to expand the United States' capacity to test for the novel coronavirus, and Slavitt on Monday announced that the administration has reached a $231.8 million deal with the diagnostics company Ellume USA to ramp up its production of over-the-counter, at-home coronavirus tests.
According to the Wall Street Journal, FDA already has authorized Ellume's over-the-counter, at-home coronavirus test for use in the United States, but the tests are not yet widely available in America. However, the deal is intended to help the company ramp up production in part by opening a manufacturing facility in the United States that could produce up to 19 million tests per month, the Washington Post reports.
Slavitt said that, under the deal, Ellume is expected to produce at least 19 million of the tests in the United States each month by the end of this year, including 8.5 million tests that are guaranteed to go to the U.S. government. The rest of the tests produce in the country will remain in the United States, but they'll be sold in retail stores and to private organizations. The test likely will cost about $30, and users need a smartphone to complete the test. The test can be used to screen people ages 2 and older for the novel coronavirus, regardless of whether they're experiencing symptoms of Covid-19.
Slavitt said the deal will help Ellume get closer to mass producing the tests and could result in lower prices. "There's a chicken and egg problem, which we have taken a step to solve today," Slavitt said. "The cost will come down only if we get to that mass production and scale."
A spokesperson for Ellume on Monday said the company is "working hard with our supply chain partners to source the materials needed to hit our goals, but we share the same global challenges that other leaders are facing in terms of shortages of raw materials." The spokesperson said the company recently ramped up its production capacity at its facilities in Australia, and it is looking to open a U.S. production facility in California, Maryland, Virginia, or another state, the Journal reports.
In an interview with the Post, Ellume Founder and CEO Sean Parsons said ramping up production of the test should allow Ellume to reduce the test's price. For instance, he noted that opening a production facility in the United States would mean the country would no longer have to ship the tests from Australia, which could help to lower the company's costs.
America grapples with persistently high rates of new coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, and deaths
The moves come as America continues to report persistently high rates of new coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.
According to data compiled by the New York Times, U.S. officials on Monday reported about 139,830 new cases of the novel coronavirus. As of Tuesday morning, officials had reported a total of about 26.3 million case of the virus since America's epidemic began, up from about 26.2 million cases reported as of Monday morning.
According to the Times, the United States' average daily number of newly reported coronavirus cases over the past week was 146,486—which is down by 29% when compared with the average from two weeks ago, when the United States was in the midst its worst peak yet in newly reported cases.
As of Tuesday morning, data from the Times showed that the rates of newly reported coronavirus cases were "staying high" in six states that have reported a daily average of at least 15 newly reported cases per 100,000 people over the past week. Those states are Alabama, North Carolina, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Washington.
In contrast, rates of newly reported coronavirus cases were "staying low" as of Tuesday morning in Guam, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
All other states and Washington, D.C., had been seeing comparatively higher rates of coronavirus transmission, but the daily average of newly reported coronavirus cases over the past seven days in those areas was "going down" as of Tuesday morning, according to the Times' data.
U.S. hospitalizations for Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, remained high as of Monday, though the number of Americans hospitalized with Covid-19 has decreased significantly from highs seen last month. According to data from The Atlantic's COVID Tracking Project, there were 93,536 Americans with Covid-19 hospitalized for treatment on Monday, including 18,572 who were receiving care in an ICU and 6,086 who were on a ventilator.
The United States' rate of newly reported deaths linked to the novel coronavirus also has declined over the past two weeks, though it remains high. According to data from the Times, U.S. officials reported about 2,010 new deaths linked to the virus on Monday. As of Tuesday morning, officials had reported a total of about 443,295 U.S. deaths linked to the virus since the country's epidemic began, up from about 441,296 reported as of Monday morning.
(Ehley, Politico, 2/1; Lovelace, CNBC, 2/1; Wang, Inside Health Policy, 2/1 [subscription required]; CDC data, 2/1; Parti/Abbott, Wall Street Journal, 2/1; Wan, Washington Post, 2/1; Weixel, The Hill, 2/1; New York Times, 2/2; "COVID Tracking Project," The Atlantic, accessed 2/2).