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The US government reversed course and is now releasing its entire cache of COVID-19 vaccines to states — including doses previously reserved for second shots, Health and Human Services czar Alex Azar said Tuesday.
“We had been holding back second doses as a safety stock. We now believe that our manufacturing is predictable 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.
The health chief said the move is part of a new approach to combating the coronavirus.
Other elements of the plan include giving states the next two weeks to prove they really need all of the vaccine doses they’ve been getting — or risk receiving fewer in the future as part of a redistribution move.
“It’s common sense,’’ Azar told reporters at a later press briefing.
“We’ve seen variable performance among states’’ in terms of getting residents vaccinated, he said.
Under a new “incentive program … states will receive their allocations in part based on the data that we have on what percentage of the vaccines they’ve received, have they actually gotten administered,’’ Azar said.
He predicted that if the issue is one of just reporting the figures better, “We’ll see that data improve.
“Allocations among the states will not remain purely on a per capita basis but based on reported data,’’ Azar said.
The feds — faced with dismal vaccination figures amid a continuing coronavirus surge — also are now encouraging states to immediately open up immunizations to everyone age 65 and older.
The health chief said the feds will be pushing states to expand where people can get immunized, too.
“It’s been overly hospitalized so far in too many states,’’ Azar said of the administering of the vaccine.
The two vaccines currently on the US market both require second doses.
The Trump administration had been holding back millions of doses to ensure that those who received the first shot would get their second.
President-elect Joe Biden has said that one of the first things his administration would do when he takes office Jan. 20 was release the government’s entire stockpile.
Medical experts have been split over the issue.
Some healthcare specialists say there’s no time to waste in terms of getting as many doses out there as possible.
“Why are we even having this conversation?” said Dr. Jake Deutsch, founder and clinical director of Cure Urgent Care clinics in New York City, which offer COVID-19 vaccines.
There is “an increased number of [coronavirus] deaths each day. This is completely out of control. And now we’re going to have some regulatory issue slow us down further?” Deutsch told The Post, referring to vaccinations.
“We should not be holding anything back,’’ said the doctor, who also is an emergency-room physician at Mount Sinai Hospital. “The bottom line is, we need to get the vaccine out there.
“Anything we do that’s prohibiting it from getting out there, like holding back second doses or trying to be hyper-organized — we need millions of people to be vaccinated to see a dent in the curve.’’
Deutsch said another benefit to releasing the government’s stockpile is that the more people who safely get vaccinated, the easier it is to prove the immunization works, bolstering public confidence.
A bigger pool of immunizations also provides more data on the shot’s success rate in the long term, the doctor said — fueling the argument that eligibility should be opened up to many more groups of people.
Dr. Amit Kumar, CEO of Anixa Biosciences, a California company that specializes in vaccine development and distribution, said that while there have been “hiccups’’ with states administering the vaccines, “it’s not a big risk’’ to dole out the government’s whole supply.
“Manufacturers have shown their really good ability’’ to keep up with demand, he said.
The doctor said that while there has been “some mistrust’’ in the government over the vaccination program, he doesn’t believe that people won’t want to be immunized even if they know there is no second dose immediately at hand.
“I think most people understand that there are always setbacks and challenges in situations like this, in something this big. … I think a lot of them would be OK … telling them that in 21 days, [the next dose] will be here,” Kumar said.
“The government is learning from its mistakes,’’ Kumar added. “I think we’re getting better and better all the time.
“And if a country as technologically advanced and rich as the US can’t handle this distribution issue, then what hope is there for anyone? I gotta believe this can be solved.’’
But Westchester County nurse practitioner Orhan Hakli, an associate dean at Manhattanville College in Purchase, NY, said he supports holding back second doses — even if just to allay his patients’ fears.
“If you release it all, it’s a gamble,’’ he said.
“Companies are assuring us they will provide us enough doses when the time comes. Sure. But what if they don’t?
“My patients, they already are nervous. They feel like this vaccination is quote unquote rushed.
“I need to be able to look my patients in the eye and say, ‘Come back in 21 days or 28 days … I’ll have that second dose.’
“Public trust is extremely important in pandemics,’’ said Hakli, associate dean of academic affairs at Manhattanville’s School of Nursing and Health Sciences.
Still, he said, while the medical community is divided over the issue, “I’m not saying one side is wrong.
“Trust me, we’ve been having this conversation for a week and a half,’’ he said of he and his colleagues.
“One side says, ‘Let’s give everything, give partial immunity.’ Some people say, ‘Do it slow, do it right.’
“We are all so passionate.’’