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Biden officials defend two-dose strategy amid fears of variants

Top Biden administration health officials made clear Monday that they are not changing strategy to give people only one dose of vaccine instead of two in an effort to speed the process, but at the same time urged health care providers not to be overly cautious in holding second doses in reserve. 

Some health experts have said the U.S. should prioritize getting the first dose of vaccine in as many people as quickly as possible, before more contagious variants take even greater hold in the coming weeks. 

Michael Osterholm, an infectious diseases expert at the University of Minnesota, said the U.S. should “call an audible” and prioritize first doses even if it means delaying second doses, given the threat of a new variant first identified in the United Kingdom that could strain hospitals even more. 

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“The fact is that the surge that is likely to occur with this new variant from England is going to happen in the next six to 14 weeks,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” 

But top Biden administration officials said Monday they are not changing their strategy, noting that the clinical trials were conducted with two doses, so that is what has been shown to work.

“We said we would follow the science in rolling out these vaccines and that is our intent,” said Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle WalenskyRochelle WalenskyCDC director: Vaccinated adolescents can remove masks outdoors at summer camps CDC: COVID-19 cases, deaths projected to drop sharply in mid-July DC drops most mask restrictions for vaccinated adults MORE

Some experts have also warned that giving people just one dose, and providing a lower level of protection, could give the virus room to mutate further and lead to even more dangerous variants. 

“There is an ongoing concern that we would see the emergence of more variants” with a one-dose strategy, Walensky said. 

Anthony FauciAnthony FauciCDC director: Vaccinated adolescents can remove masks outdoors at summer camps The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Emergent BioSolutions - Facebook upholds Trump ban; GOP leaders back Stefanik to replace Cheney Overnight Health Care: Biden backs COVID-19 vaccine patent waivers | Moderna reports positive early results for booster shots against COVID-19 variants | Federal judge vacates CDC's eviction moratorium MORE, the government’s top infectious diseases expert, added: “The first priority will always be to get the people who've gotten their first doses to get their second dose.”

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In contrast, the U.K., facing a surge from the variant there, has delayed second doses up to 12 weeks, instead of the recommended three or four, in an effort to get more people their first dose faster. 

While sticking with a two-dose strategy, Andy Slavitt, senior adviser to the White House coronavirus team, said some health care providers are holding back doses that could be given immediately, instead saving them to be used as second doses, which they should not be doing. 

“We believe that some health care providers are regularly holding back doses that are intended as first doses and instead holding them in reserve for second doses for patients,” he said. 

“It does not need to happen and should not happen,” he added. He said the new administration’s efforts to give states three-week advance notice of their coming vaccine supply should help improve planning and reduce the need for providers to be overly cautious in holding back reserve doses.

Helping get those doses into arms immediately could help close the gap of 50 million doses distributed, compared with 31 million doses actually administered. 

Slavitt said the gap has been getting smaller over time.

“We are focused on this every hour of every day,” he said.