CDC: On second thought, let's use a first-come first-served vaccination system for higher-risk Americans

Way, way overdue, but at least this might finally kick-start a faster move to herd immunity. The CDC’s previous super-precise phased rollout guidelines let to especially disastrous decisions in New York and elsewhere that resulted in vaccine destruction rather than vaccinations. After watching bottlenecks form and doses get destroyed, the CDC will roll out a much more open system for vaccinations, Bloomberg reports:

The Trump administration will encourage states to widen access to Covid-19 vaccines as part of an effort to speed up a stumbling immunization campaign.

Health officials on Tuesday will push states to expand the shots’ availability to anyone older than 65, regardless of underlying conditions that might put them at greater risk of severe disease, and anyone younger than 65 with such a condition, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said in an interview with Fox & Friends.

That’s not the only change. After reviewing supplies and production, the CDC will now allow all extant doses to be used for first inoculations. Production will ramp up fast enough to ensure an orderly access to the necessary second dose:

The U.S. also will no longer hold back second doses of the vaccine in order to make more shots available immediately, according to the Surgeon General.

“We have enough in reserve that we can just start pushing those doses out there,” Adams said.

To be fair, the initial production numbers combined with the logistical issues made that a dicey proposition. However, the US pre-emptively bought hundreds of millions of doses of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines expressly to make this rollout as fast as possible. It makes sense to start off with a rationing scheme, but the brittle nature of that rationing amped up the risk of wasting doses and wasting time getting people at least somewhat protected against COVID-19.

They won’t be moving away from rationing altogether, either. Adams’ announcement still makes clear that they want to give preference to higher-risk Americans — those 65 and over and those with co-morbidities associated with bad outcomes from acute infections. That won’t be easy to manage either, but at least it gives providers a start on broadening their vaccination efforts.

Speaking of which, do we have that many doses in the system at the moment? Here in Minnesota, I have pestered my clinic, my pharmacist (Walgreens, one of the major partners in Operation Warp Speed), and two local hospitals for information about vaccination access. None of them have any doses of either vaccine on hand; almost all of the vaccinations in Minnesota have gone to nursing-home residents and front-line health-care workers, which makes sense when dealing with severely limited supplies. However, that does indicate that there isn’t a pent-up supply just waiting for distribution here. Will the CDC ramp up the distribution of those doses to the states to match this new policy? And when?