With demand for COVID-19 vaccines dropping in many states, the federal government is changing how those doses are allocated.
Under the new policy, doses that a state doesn’t request from its weekly, population-based allotment will be held in a general pool, and states with higher demand can request additional shots from that surplus.
President Joe Biden on Tuesday also announced multiple changes in the U.S. vaccine campaign that are aimed at increasing uptake, including more outreach to rural regions and a push to vaccinate adolescents if the Pfizer vaccine is approved for their use.
At a news conference held in Baltimore City, Maryland Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) said that the vaccine will be available to about 455,000 youths in this age group as soon as Pfizer receives approval.
Under the new approach, states will continue to make weekly decisions on how many doses to request from the federal government. If a state orders fewer doses one week, that decision will not reduce its future allotments, Biden administration officials said during the briefing.
The change in how vaccines are distributed comes as vaccine appointments are readily available in most areas, and many Americans most eager to receive a shot have been done so. Many states are seeing a decrease in the number of shots they’re administering each week, according to tracking data from the CDC.
At least 56% of American adults have received at least one dose of one of the three authorized COVID-19 vaccines, according to the CDC. Nearly 105 million Americans are fully vaccinated, or about 41% of those over 18.
Hogan said Tuesday afternoon that over 4.9 million vaccines have been administered in the state, including 85% of Marylanders aged 65 and older and 62% of those over 18.
During his remarks Tuesday, Biden set a new goal, calling for 70% of U.S. adults to receive at least one shot by July Fourth, and for 160 million Americans to get both shots by that date. Reaching that goal would require roughly 100 million additional shots during the next two months, according to his administration.
Getting those shots in arms will depend on finding people who are hesitant or skeptical of receiving a vaccine, making it even easier to get a vaccine and building confidence in the newly available shots.
Hogan is confident that Maryland will be “way ahead” of Biden’s July goal.
“We’re already nearly 65% of everybody that’s eligible,” he said. “Some states may have difficulty. We will not.”
States will see a new infusion of money for vaccine outreach efforts, with nearly $250 million for media campaigns and targeted messaging to specific communities.
On Monday, the Hogan administration announced a financial incentive program to encourage public employees to get vaccinated. Each state worker who volunteers to be fully inoculated will receive $100.
“With this incentive program, we are further encouraging state employees to get vaccinated to help keep themselves, their families, and their communities healthy and safe,” Hogan said in a statement. “These vaccines are safe and effective, they’re free, and they’re readily available with or without an appointment.”
Leadership at the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 3, the largest union for Maryland state employees, said that they were surprised at the Hogan administration’s announcement, stating that they had plans to bargain such a program Wednesday.
They said that Hogan’s attempt to bargain through the media is “deeply disappointing and illegal.”
“AFSCME has continually been denied information regarding how many state employees or people in the state’s care have been infected or died from COVID-19,” AFSCME Council 3 said in a statement issued Monday evening. “This lack of transparency coupled with the administration’s unilateral actions makes it hard to keep public employees and the people they serve safe.”
“I’m strongly encouraging our friends in the nursing home industry in our hospitals to offer similar incentives for our frontline health care workers,” Hogan said at the news conference.
Tuesday, the governor announced that the state is launching a “vaccine confidence effort” to attempt to put more shots in the arms of unvaccinated eldercare facility workers. Nursing homes and assisted living facilities will also be ordered to report their vaccination data for residents and staff to make that data publicly available through the Department of Aging.
The president directed pharmacies in the federal vaccine program to offer walk-in appointments, and encouraged states to also offer vaccinations without an appointment as well. The federal government also will launch smaller, pop-up and mobile vaccine sites, as opposed to the mass-vax locations of the early rollout.
The Biden administration also will increase focus on outreach in rural areas, with more money and shots going directly to rural clinics and hospitals. More than $100 million from the last COVID-19 stimulus package will go to outreach and education efforts across 4,600 rural health clinics.
Another $860 million from that legislation will pay for expanded COVID-19 testing and mitigation through rural hospitals and clinics.
Hogan also announced Tuesday that $12 million in funding will be allocated across 10 hospital systems in Maryland to work with local health departments, nonprofits and faith-based organizations to increase access, “especially in vulnerable underserved and hard-to-reach communities,” he said.
A Kaiser Family Foundation study released last month found a larger share of rural residents reported they had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine than those in denser cities or suburban areas, where appointments have been harder to secure. But that report also found a greater share of rural residents are waiting to get the vaccine or do not intend to get one than those in urban or suburban communities.
Biden also called on states to be prepared to expand access to younger Americans, with an application from Pfizer expected to be approved as soon as next week which would allow that shot to be given to adolescents between the ages of 12 and 15.
His administration will also seek to send vaccines directly to pediatricians and family doctors to boost access and vaccination rates in that age group.
“We’re completely ready and prepared for that and anxiously awaiting,” Hogan said.