The Trump administration recommended on Tuesday that states vaccinate everyone older than 65 and all people, regardless of age, with an underlying health condition, a major expansion of federal guidelines that health officials hope will speed up the slow pace of vaccinations across the country.
The CDC had previously recommended that states prioritize healthcare workers and nursing home residents.
But the rigid rules, which were put in place to make sure those with higher risk get vaccinated first, have contributed to the slow rollout, frustrating public health experts who say the U.S. should focus on getting as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible.
A few states, such as Florida, have already started vaccinating patients 65 and older—but they’ve still run into logistical hurdles in scheduling appointments and disseminating accurate information about where to go, problems other states will have to contend with as the pool of eligible patients expands.
The CDC recommendations are non-binding, meaning states are free to come up with their own rules for prioritization.
“We’ve had so much success with quality and predictable manufacturing and almost flawless distribution of the vaccine, but we have seen now that the administration in the states has been too narrowly focused,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar said on Good Morning America Tuesday.
Vaccine rollout across the country has been slow and riddled with hiccups. Of the 25 million doses distributed, only 8 million have been actually given out, according to the CDC. Clinics have in some cases been forced to throw unused doses in the trash because they can’t find eligible patients. Some healthcare workers are opting not to take it. And state and local health departments, who have been tasked with figuring out the logistics of distribution themselves, have been overstretched and overwhelmed with a lack of resources.
Federal health officials also said Tuesday it will begin sending out all available vaccines, instead of holding some back to make sure there’s enough for people to receive a second dose. The move is expected to nearly double supply.