The U.S. was "too rigid" in the initial rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert said on Tuesday, the same day that the Trump administration moved to expand distribution efforts.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, speaking at the "Futures Forum on Preparedness," hosted by Schmidt Futures, said the country "needs to do better than we’ve done so far," in the distribution effort.
Fauci, who noted that country faced "almost an unprecedented challenge" in rolling out the vaccine, said that while it was appropriate to get shots to priority groups such as health care workers and people who are in nursing homes, the country was "too rigid in categorizing and classifying people," which prevented "getting the vaccine doses out in the most efficient matter."
He said that while the U.S. is not "abandoning the prioritization" approach, it will move forward so that when people are ready to get vaccinated they can, which will also cut down on supply sitting in freezers when "they could be getting into people’s arms."
He predicted that the next few weeks the country will be more efficient in administering doses. His comments come hours after the Trump administration advised states to expand distribution plans to include people ages 65 and older, as well as those considered high risk, and to avoid reserving second doses.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said the policy shift came after confidence in vaccine production and manufacturing ensured that enough second doses would be available for those who have already received the first.
He said that he has been working daily to address vaccine hesitancy in the U.S., and called for a unified effort among the U.S. and world to stop the spread of coronavirus.
"Infectious diseases don’t know any boundaries," he said, later pinning some blame on mixed messaging to the public from top officials.
"We have mixed messages coming out from higher levels of government right now, and that really is unfortunate because that does get people confused – when you have mixed messages people who have their own agenda can always find one of those messages that agrees when them," he said.
Still, ground can be gained in the pandemic foot race he said, by unifying and continuing to practice public health measures as the vaccination effort continues. While he believes that herd immunity will require up to 85% of the population to be vaccinated, refraining from giving into COVID-19 fatigue can help diminish the virus’ impact, he said.
"If we get 70-85% vaccinated over the next several months, and we do it correctly and make this a make this what it is – a medical emergency – we can get that accomplished by the middle to the end of summer so hopefully we can get back to some form of normality as we head into the fall," he said.
Fauci also spoke to whether the recently identified variant B.1.1.7 would impact vaccine efficacy. He said that while it doesn’t appear that it will, the other variant identified in South Africa could be having an impact on protection for monoclonal antibodies and that the U.S. is continuing to closely monitor both.