(Bloomberg) -- President-elect Joe Biden says he’ll distribute more of the available doses of coronavirus vaccines, reversing the Trump administration’s practice of holding back second doses to ensure they’re available for people who’ve already had their first shot.
The move, announced by Biden’s office Friday and supported by a group of Democratic governors, is a response to the sluggish vaccine rollout. Coronavirus cases and deaths have been surging in the U.S. for months.
“He supports releasing available doses immediately, and believes the government should stop holding back vaccine supply so we can get more shots in Americans’ arms now,” Biden spokesman TJ Ducklo said in a written statement.
The Trump administration has so far withheld about half of allocated doses of vaccines made by Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE and Moderna Inc., each of which are a two-dose regimen. The current administration has said it wants to make sure doses are available when people return for their second shot, to ensure efficacy and ease concern among Americans that they might not be able to complete the regimen.
Distributing vaccines without being absolutely sure a second dose is available is contrary to Food and Drug Administration recommendations, according to a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services.
“Second-dose management was always about ensuring supply chain availability,” HHS spokesman Michael Pratt said. “Operation Warp Speed monitors manufacturing closely, with the intent to transition from reserving as many second doses as manufacturing further stabilizes with a consistent flow of vaccines.”
Biden’s statement did not make clear how many shots he would still withhold. Biden will release additional details next week, Ducklo said.
The move risks that a hiccup in delivery of vaccines could leave the administration without enough when people’s second doses are due.
Biden’s transition team is confident that manufacturers can meet the demand, a transition official said, asking not to be identified. They will use the Defense Production Act to force production of materials if necessary, the official said.
Trump administration officials previously said they made the decision to withhold doses because without a second shot, there is a risk the first shot may not provide as strong or lasting protection against the virus.
“We don’t know how the behavior of the vaccine would be if we omit to give the second dose at three weeks or at four weeks after the first dose,” Moncef Slaoui, one of the officials leading the vaccine rollout, told CBS last month.
“As always, early in manufacturing, there may be challenges. Sometimes, vaccine doses can be delayed by a week or a few days or, God forbid, by three weeks. It would be inappropriate to partially immunize large numbers of people, and not complete their immunization,” he said.
But there has been debate in the public health community about whether to delay second doses of the Moderna and Pfizer shots in order to provide first doses to more Americans faster, in the hope the pandemic will be rapidly brought under control. President Donald Trump’s FDA commissioner, Stephen Hahn, has publicly argued against such a strategy.
In a letter to a pair of senior Trump administration officials, the Democratic governors echoed Biden’s plan to release more first doses and urged the Trump administration to adopt the strategy before the inauguration.
“We demand that the federal government begin distributing these reserved doses to states immediately,” the governors wrote in a letter, dated Friday and obtained by Bloomberg News. It was sent to Health Secretary Alex Azar as well as General Gustave Perna, who has been leading the logistical rollout of the vaccine.
“Our states are ready to work around the clock to ramp up distribution, get more shots in arms, and save more American lives,” the governors said.
The letter was signed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, California Governor Gavin Newsom, Kansas Governor Laura Kelly, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz, Washington Governor Jay Inslee and Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers.