Warning that vaccines are the only backstop the country has against fast-spreading new variants of the coronavirus, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, said Sunday that federal and state leaders need to “hit the reset and adopt a new strategy” to get far more shots into arms as soon as possible.
Speaking on “Face the Nation” on CBS News, Dr. Gottlieb said the 40 million doses currently available could go a long way toward protecting the nation’s 50 million residents who are 65 and older in particular.
“I think we need to take an all-of-the-above approach and push it out through different channels,” Dr. Gottlieb said, “including the big-box stores, including federal sites that the Biden administration is talking about standing up. We need to try everything right now to create multiple distribution points.”
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 22.1 million doses had been sent to states as of Friday but only about 6.7 million people had received the first of two necessary doses. That data lags the most recent allocations by at least a few days.
The vaccination rate picked up considerably last week, after the holiday period ended, and a number of governors announced plans to allow a broader swath of citizens to get shots. But states that expand the availability of the inoculations — announcing that people over 70, for example, can now get the vaccine — are finding demand so intense that online registration portals quickly overload and crash, call lines get flooded and available supply is exhausted in a matter of hours.
President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. announced Friday that he would release almost all available vaccine immediately after taking office on Jan. 20, rather than conserving half of it to ensure everyone who gets a first dose will also get a second a few weeks later.
Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland, a Republican, said on Sunday that whether doses should be conserved was “a really interesting debate,” because of concerns over whether production can be stepped up to get second shots to people in time.
”I just want to make sure we get as many out as fast as possible, without endangering people with regard to the second dose,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
The Biden team is to announce this week a plan for ramping up the vaccination rate, including setting up vaccination sites run by the federal government in places like sports stadiums and high school gymnasiums.
But Dr. Gottlieb said pharmacies, too, needed to quickly start offering the vaccine to their customers. Federal officials said last week that they would accelerate the start of a program in which some 40,000 pharmacy locations will give vaccines to people in high-risk groups, such as the elderly and frontline workers. Only a few thousand will be involved at the start, though.
“A lot of senior citizens aren’t going to want to go to a stadium to get an inoculation,” Dr. Gottlieb said. “They’re going to want to go to a local pharmacy or doctor’s office. So we need to provide more opportunity for people to get vaccinated where they’re comfortable getting it.”