States with higher vaccine demand can request more from the feds

Healthcare professional in protective gloves and workwear holding a tray of COVID-19 vaccine vials. Credit: Getty Images.

WASHINGTON — With demand for COVID-19 vaccines dropping in many states, the federal government is changing how those doses are allocated.

Under the new policy, any doses that a state doesn’t request from its weekly, population-based allotment will be held in a general pool, and states with higher demand can request additional shots from that surplus.

President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 advisers outlined the new policy to governors during a call Tuesday morning. Senior administration officials also described the policy to reporters during a separate conference call ahead of Biden’s remarks Tuesday afternoon on the nation’s vaccination push.

Biden on Tuesday announced multiple changes in the U.S. vaccine campaign that are aimed at increasing uptake, including a push to vaccinate adolescents if the Pfizer vaccine is approved for their use, and more outreach to rural regions.

His administration has launched a new website, vaccines.gov, to make it easier to locate a vaccination appointment. The president urged businesses to help persuade Americans to get their shots through discounts on groceries or other perks at locations offering vaccines.

“Now we’re going to have to bring the vaccine to people who are less eager,” Biden said, adding: “There are millions of Americans who just need a little bit of encouragement to get the shot.”

Under the new approach for distributing doses to states, they will continue to make weekly decisions on how many doses to request from the federal government. If a state orders fewer doses one week, that decision will not reduce its future allotments, administration officials said during the briefing call.

The change in how vaccines are distributed comes as vaccine appointments are readily available in most areas, and many Americans most eager to receive a shot have already done so. Many states are seeing a decrease in the number of shots they’re administering each week, according to tracking data from the CDC.

At least 56 percent of American adults have received at least one dose of one of the three authorized COVID-19 vaccines, according to the CDC. Nearly 105 million Americans are fully vaccinated, or about 41 percent of those over 18.

During his remarks Tuesday, Biden set a new goal, calling for 70 percent of U.S. adults to receive at least one shot by July 4 and for 160 million Americans to get both shots by that date. Reaching that goal would require roughly 100 million additional shots during the next two months, according to the administration.

Getting those shots in arms will depend on finding those who are hesitant or skeptical of receiving a vaccine, making it even easier to get a vaccine, and building confidence in the newly available shots.

States will see a new infusion of money for vaccine outreach efforts, with nearly $250 million for media campaigns and targeted messaging to specific communities.

The president is expected to direct pharmacies in the federal vaccine program to offer walk-in appointments, and encourage states to offer vaccinations without an appointment. The federal government will launch smaller, pop-up, and mobile vaccine sites, as opposed to the mass-vax locations of the early rollout.

The administration will increase focus on outreach in rural areas, with more money and shots going directly to rural clinics and hospitals. More than $100 million from the last COVID-19 stimulus package will go to outreach and education efforts across 4,600 rural health clinics.

Another $860 million from that legislation will pay for expanded COVID-19 testing and mitigation through rural hospitals and clinics.

A Kaiser Family Foundation study released last month found a larger share of rural residents reported they had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine than those in denser cities or suburban areas, where appointments have been harder to secure. But that report also found a greater share of rural residents are waiting to get the vaccine or do not intend to get one than those in urban or suburban communities.

Biden called on states to be prepared to expand access to younger Americans, with an application from Pfizer expected to be approved as soon as next week that would allow that shot to be given to adolescents between the ages of 12 and 15.

His administration will seek to send vaccines directly to pediatricians and family doctors to boost access and uptake in that age group.