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Feds try to ease vaccine backlog by enlisting retired nurses and doctors

(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration announced a move Wednesday to bolster the number of people who can administer COVID-19 vaccines by making it easier for retired doctors and nurses to give those shots.

The federal government also will allow current doctors and nurses to administer vaccines in states other than where they are licensed. The Health and Human Services Department will make those changes through a declaration under the Public Readiness and Preparedness Act, which provides immunity from liability under emergency circumstances.

The changes are the latest in a flurry of actions that the new president and federal health officials have taken in the initial days of the Biden administration. The latest steps were discussed by Biden’s top COVID-19 advisers during a public briefing Wednesday, as the administration resurrects those open pandemic briefings in an effort to increase transparency.

Officials reviewed Biden’s announcement Tuesday that states will be receiving more doses of COVID-19 vaccines during the next three weeks, and will receive more planning estimates for how many doses they should expect over a three-week period. His administration also is seeking to purchase another 200 million vaccines, which could be available this summer.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who was among governors briefed by the Biden administration on the changes Tuesday, said in a statement that he appreciates that states will receive “slightly higher allocations for the next few weeks, but we are going to need much more supply.”

Asked about Hogan’s comments, Andy Slavitt, a senior adviser on the administration’s pandemic response team, replied: “We hear you, Gov. Hogan, and we couldn’t agree more.”

“I would love to tell you that we inherited a situation where there were stockpiles and stockpiles of vaccines sitting there. That is not the case, and it is our job to level, both with the governors and with the public,” Slavitt said, adding that they “hope to do our best to increase and accelerate more vaccines.”

Biden’s COVID-19 advisers also acknowledged confusion surrounding the public data on how many vaccines have been delivered to states and how many have been administered.

Of the more than 44 million doses that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says have been delivered, only 23.5 million have gone into the arms of Americans so far. More than 20 million people have gotten their first doses, and roughly 3.5 million have gotten both doses.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said not all of the vaccines listed as having been allocated or delivered to states are available for inserting into arms, as those doses may still be in the pipeline and on their way to their final destinations in states.

Some of the doses that states have on hand are inventory to ensure that those who have received their first shot are able to get the second in the two-shot regimen, said Jeff Zients, head of Biden’s COVID-19 task force.

Walensky said federal officials are working to tighten up timelines for when vaccines administered are reported by states, to lessen the lag and potential discrepancies in those figures.

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Biden orders tougher mask rules as part of overhauled COVID-19 strategy

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden’s first policy focus after being sworn in? Overhauling the disjointed federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which claimed another 4,400 American lives on his first day in office alone.

“The brutal truth is, it’s going to take months before we can get the majority of Americans vaccinated,” Biden said Thursday. “So while we increase vaccinations, we’re going to take steps necessary now to slow the spread of the disease.”

One of the initial executive orders he signed Wednesday requires mask-wearing and physical distancing in all federal buildings, on all federal lands, and by federal employees and contractors, plus a broad call for Americans to mask up during the next 100 days.

He followed that on Thursday with another mask-wearing directive — requiring their use on airplanes, trains and other public transportation — as well as rolling out a national strategy for combating the virus. 

Those steps by Biden mark a sharp shift from his predecessor, who repeatedly downplayed the public health threat and refused to wear a face mask. The Trump administration had left it up to states to craft their vaccine distribution plans, but didn’t push Congress to provide additional money, even as state officials sought more help for the mammoth task before them.

States also have complained about receiving too little or shifting information about vaccine shipments from Operation Warp Speed, the task force set up under the last administration to deliver vaccine doses.

More vaccine centers, more masking

Biden’s plan calls for more masking, testing, treatment and data.

He’s seeking to give states a boost in their vaccination efforts; fix supply shortages; support school reopenings; and improve equity in the pandemic response across racial, ethnic and geographic lines.

He aims to get 100 new federally supported vaccine centers operating by the end of February, and to provide staff to help run them.

Perhaps most of all, his administration says it wants to rebuild trust in the federal government’s statements about and response to the pandemic.

“Our national strategy is comprehensive. It’s based on science, not politics. It’s based on truth, not denial. And it’s detailed,” Biden said Thursday afternoon as he outlined his new coronavirus actions.

Among other changes, Biden’s 10 COVID-related executive orders and other directives would: Read more

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