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Health and Human Services secretary says states 'lagging' in COVID-19 vaccinations

25.5 million doses dispatched to states, but only about 9 million people have received first shot

Updated: January 12, 2021 - 5:21pm

Just a month after the Food and Drug Administration approved its first COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, media outlets are reporting that the effort to inoculate the most vulnerable is not going well.

But while the federal government has distributed about 25.5 million doses to states, U.S. territories and major cities, only about 9 million people had received the vaccine, the Associated Press reports. That means only about 35% of the available vaccines have been administered.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Tuesday that states are "lagging." Still, he acknowledged that "with any program you're going to have a scale up."

In an effort to speed up the process, Azar announced two changes to the program:  The government will no longer hold back required second doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, practically doubling supply.

And secondly, states should immediately start vaccinating other groups lower down the priority scale, including people 65 and older, and younger people with certain health problems," the wire service also reports.

“We had been holding back second doses as a safety stock. We now believe that our manufacturing is predicable enough that we can ensure second doses are available for people from ongoing production,’’ Azar said on ABC TV’s “Good Morning America.” “We have already made available every dose of vaccine,’’ he said.

But Azar also said to state governors "if you're not using vaccine that you have a right to, then we may rebalance to states that are using that vaccine. It is common sense."

Azar also said the distribution of the vaccine has been too centralized.

Also on Tuesday, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said that hundreds of thousands of people are getting vaccinated every day across the nation, but more can be done.

“We’re in a race against this virus and quite frankly, we’re behind,” Adams said on Fox News "Fox & Friends." "The good news is that 700,000 people are getting vaccinated every single day. We’re going to hit 1 million people and we need to continue to pick up that pace."