On Tuesday, officials at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services expanded COVID-19 vaccine availability during the initial phase of distribution to include people age 65 years and older. The changes also give priority to those with underlying health conditions that place them at higher risk for serious illness from COVID-19 infection. For instance, people with conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and respiratory illnesses such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, are believed to be at increased risk for severe COVID-19.
HHS secretary Alex Azar said during a press briefing Tuesday, “With the case counts we’re facing now, there’s no time to waste. It’s time to move on to the next phase, [and] this next phase reflects the urgency of the situation we face.” Previously, “phase 1A” of the vaccination recommendations issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in December called for healthcare workers and adults age 75 years and older, particularly those residing in nursing homes, to be given priority.
HHS will also be releasing the nation’s “entire supply” of vaccine for use as first or second doses. As part of Operation Warp Speed, U.S. health officials are monitoring vaccine production at the manufacturer level and are confident that sufficient doses will be available.