HHS Secretary Alex Azar Blames States For Slow Rollout of COVID-19 Vaccines

The Trump administration is blaming states for the slow rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines, which have severely lagged behind President Donald Trump's expectations.

"State restrictions on eligibility have obstructed speed and accessibility of administration," Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told reporters Tuesday, announcing that the federal government is encouraging states to loosen their rules about who will qualify for vaccines.

The federal government initially urged states to prioritize health care and other front-line workers as vaccines are rolled out. Azar said they now want states to offer to inoculate anyone older than 65 and those younger who have credible health care conditions that make them more susceptible to the novel coronavirus that has killed more than 380,000 people in the United States in the past year.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 9.3 million people have received the initial dose of COVID-19 vaccine, which in most cases require two doses separated by a couple of weeks. That's about a third of the vaccines that have been distributed to states so far.

Several governors early on said they would prioritize health care workers and people in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and California Governor Gavin Newsom have faced backlash in particular.

Other states have sought to temper expectations. Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards defended the pace of the roll out

"Nobody is satisfied—this is just starting," Edwards told reporters last week. "This is a tremendously complex logistical exercise."

The Trump administration is urging states to lean on pharmacies to get more people vaccinated, rather than relying on health centers.

Azar said more people could have received the vaccine than is known, as there could be a lag in reporting in some states.

Trump had promised that 300 million vaccines would be distributed by the end of the year, after he launched an effort dubbed "Operation Warp Speed" to fast-track development of vaccines and treatments for the coronavirus. However, the U.S. didn't meet that goal.

President-elect Joe Biden has vowed to have 100 million people vaccinated within his first 100 days in office.

"We've achieved several milestones," Azar said Tuesday. "The doses allocated exceeds the priority populations...which means that supply now exceeds demand, only four weeks into our launch."

Azar said the United States is on track to have a million vaccinations a day in the next week.

"Every vaccine dose that is sitting in a warehouse, rather than going into an arm could mean one more life lost or one more hospital bed occupied," Azar said.

The federal government had planned to hold back a stockpile of vaccine doses to ensure people could get the second dose, but Azar said that will no longer be followed so that more people can begin the inoculation process.

"There was never a reason that states needed to complete vaccinating all health care providers before opening vaccinations to older Americans and other vulnerable populations," he said.

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Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar delivers remarks on reducing drug costs as US President Donald Trump looks on in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, DC, on May 11, 2018. NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty