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Biden Plans To Release The Feds' Entire COVID-19 Vaccine Supply. But Health Officials Have Concerns

Christophe Ena
Associated Press
A vial of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at a coronavirus vaccine center in Poissy, France, Friday, Jan. 8, 2021.

President-elect Joe Biden announced on Friday that he wants to release nearly all available doses of the COVID-19 vaccine after he takes office on Jan. 20.

Health officials in Maine have stressed the need for more doses to ramp up vaccinations, but the plan could create new challenges for the state’s rollout.

Details of Biden’s plan aren’t expected until next week. But his initial announcement to open the floodgates and ship nearly all available doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to states was met with caution by the director of the Maine CDC, Dr. Nirav Shah, on Friday. That’s because it’s unclear whether second doses would be held in reserve.

“Under the current system, we’ve got greater assurances that when we give someone a first dose, there will be a second dose available to them,” he said.

If states no longer have that assurance, Shah said that creates a new set of logistical challenges. If Maine plows through its supply and gives more people first doses, he said, what happens if there’s a production delay and those individuals can’t receive their second dose within the recommended time frame? And if the responsibility of holding second doses falls in states’ laps, Shah said that requires more planning that could slow down the entire rollout.

“Even though increased availability of vaccines is something that we welcome, if it means we have to take steps to reserve or guard the second doses, we may not have the same throughput,” he said.

Maine has been welcoming of more doses for weeks, after watching its expected allotment dip by more than 5,000 doses since the vaccine was first distributed in December. And the state’s next allocation of 17,175 doses is just 100 more than what was received this week.

“Candidly, we were hoping for increases in the volume, but next week, as with this week, it appears that the volume we receive will be flat,” Shah said.

The cumulative total is a little more than 99,000 doses, which is only enough to vaccinate 75% of those included in Phase 1A, which includes health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities.

Shah has declined to provide details about who may be prioritized in Phase 1B, which is expected to begin in early February and includes essential workers and adults 75 and older. He said it’s difficult to solidify plans when the state is only given a six-day notice of its future allotments. But Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said she’s encouraged by discussions she’s already had with President-elect Biden’s team.

“I am cautiously optimistic that we will have a more coordinated, more two-way relationship with the incoming administration,” she said.

And Maine officials say they’re looking for more specifics about Biden’s plan to ship more doses.