Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the government’s top infectious disease experts, told NBC’s Today Show Thursday that the United States is considering altering its current Covid-19 immunization protocols to dramatically increase the number of Americans inoculated, as the country is falling behind its inoculation targets and the U.S. desperately tries to stem the surge of the virus that has killed more than 7,400 people over just the past two days.
Under its current plan, the government is withholding enough quantities of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines—which both require two doses—so that people who have received their initial shot can receive a second, booster dose of the Pfizer vaccine 21 days later and a second Moderna shot 28 days later.
The United Kingdom on Wednesday approved the use of its second Covid-19 shot—the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine—and announced that it would give the first dose to as many people as possible, as opposed to withholding some of the supply to administer quick second shots.
The British government said that some individuals would wait as long as 12 weeks before receiving their second shot.
On Thursday, Fauci became the first prominent American health official to proclaim that a similar change in strategy is “under consideration” in the U.S., although he expressed concern about a lag between doses.
It comes as the New York Times is reporting that logistical issues and staff shortages across the country are causing delays in the vaccine being administered, with the U.S. falling far short of its target to inoculate 20 million Americans before 2021.
“There’s a lot of discussion about whether or not you want to spread out the initial vaccination by getting more people vaccinated on the first round,” said Fauci. “You could debate either way on that.” He later added: “But you can make an argument, and some people are, about stretching out the doses by giving a single dose across the board and hoping you’re going to get the second dose in time to give to individuals.”
The United States reported a record-high of 3,744 new coronavirus deaths on Wednesday, the highest one-day total since the start of the pandemic, surpassing the previous record of 3,725 deaths set one day earlier. The number of Americans currently hospitalized (125,220) also represents an all-time high. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 2.8 million Americans have received the first dose of the vaccine, despite 14 million being distributed. In early December, government officials said they would have 40 million doses available this month, which would be enough to fully vaccinate 20 million Americans by the end of the year. Fauci said Thursday that it was “disappointing” that less than 3 million shots had been administered. In terms of spreading out the first doses of the vaccine going forward, Fauci said, “one of the problems of doing that is if you don’t then get the second dose in time, you’re going to have a lag period. We know from the clinical trial that the optimal time is to give it on one day, and then, for Moderna 28 days later, and for Pfizer 21 days later… That’s what the data tells us is the best way to do it,” Fauci continued, “so if you want to stick with the data, that’s the way you should do it.”
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New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday that the city has set a goal to vaccinate 1 million residents in January. As of Thursday, fewer than 89,000 doses had been administered. “This thing is not moving the way it needs to in the U.S.,” de Blasio said. “New York City is going to show that we can jump-start this and vaccinate people at a record pace. And we want to see the whole country be a part of this because we need to go faster to fight back the coronavirus if we want to recover.”
Fauci also addressed the discovery of a new variant of the coronavirus in the United States (one case in California and two in Colorado). Due to its spread throughout the United Kingdom, where it emerged, it was “inevitable” that it would arrive in the U.S., Fauci said. “You’ll be hearing reports from other states and more cases in the state that are already reported. Unfortunately, that’s just the reality of the way these viruses spread,” he added. Although the new variant is “more efficient in spreading from person to person,” Fauci noted that “the good news is that it does not appear to be more virulent” and “does not seem to evade the protection that’s afforded by vaccines that are currently being used.”