White House to shift how it distributes unallocated vaccines to states

White House officials on Tuesday told states that if they do not order their full allocation of vaccine doses in the coming weeks, those doses will be reallocated as the administration shifts how it gets the shot to areas most in need.

The White House outlined the new policy in a call with governors, according to an official on the call. States previously ordered doses from the federal government and were able to carry over unordered shots if demand ticked up.

But the new policy means the unordered doses will go into a pool of vaccines for the federal government to send to areas where demand outnumbers supply. The change comes as the nation has seen a downturn in vaccination rates.

The Biden administration has been allocating coronavirus vaccine doses to states based on population in an effort to ensure equitable distribution. But some states have recently opted not to order their full allocation as a greater percentage of their residents get vaccinated and as outreach becomes more targeted.

“States have been trying to figure this out,” the official on the call said. “Bottom line, I don’t think [the Biden administration] loved the governors negotiating it among themselves.”

States will still be able to increase their order from week-to-week, according to the official, meaning governors will be able to adjust if they see vaccine demand rise.

“This is great news—Oregon has been using all the vaccines we can get and I intend to ask for the maximum available from this new federal vaccine bank,” Oregon Gov. Kate Brown tweeted in response to the announcement. “We are in a race with COVID-19 variants, and this will help us get more shots in arms as quickly as possible.”

The White House announced last week that 100 million Americans have been fully vaccinated, meaning they got either the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine or both doses of the Moderna or Pfizer shot.

But the vaccination rate has dipped in recent days. The average daily vaccination rate was down from a high of 3.38 million on April 13, to about 2.6 million on Thursday, according to figures from Our World in Data.

Experts say the country must now focus on getting vaccines to hard to reach parts of the country and persuading vaccine-hesitant individuals to get the shot.

Jeff Zients, the coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, told The Washington Post that the administration’s shift in distribution underscored how the country has moved into a new phase in its vaccination campaign as many Americans who were eager to get the shot have gotten it.

The White House had previously been careful to avoid drastically changing how it distributed vaccine doses to states, believing the population-based strategy was the fairest way to do it. The administration turned down a request from Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D), a Biden ally, to surge vaccine doses to her state as it grappled with a sharp rise in coronavirus cases.

“We are always evaluating how to ensure we’re getting more supply out to the country and out to the American people, more shots in arms,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said when asked what had changed since Whitmer’s request. “So even just a few weeks ago we were in a different place in our vaccination effort where supply was more constrained.”

Updated 1:22 p.m.

Tags Coronavirus Gretchen Whitmer Jeff Zients Jen Psaki Kate Brown prescription drugs Vaccines

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