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HHS Expands COVID-19 Vaccine Eligibility to People 65 and Older

Human Services Secretary Alex Azar

Pool / Pool / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • Anyone 65 and older is now eligible to get the vaccine 
  • People younger than 65 who have a documented health issue that increases their risk from COVID-19 are also now eligible. 
  • The timeline for second doses of the currently available vaccines—21 days after the first for the Pfizer vaccine; 28 days after the first for the Moderna vaccine—remain the same. 
  • States will have to add sites and healthcare staff to administer the additional doses the federal government will be releasing. Check with your physician, your local health department, or call 311 to find out where the shots are available in your area.

In a press briefing on Tuesday, January 12, outgoing Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar put forward new recommendations for getting more Americans vaccinated sooner against COVID-19. 

The new recommendations will make vaccine doses more readily available to a larger group of Americans: 

  • Everyone 65 and older 
  • People under 65 with documented chronic health conditions such as high blood pressure, cancer, chronic lung disease. and heart disease.

Prior to the announcement, most states were following recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) to vaccinate only healthcare workers and residents of long term care facilities during the initial distribution phase. As a result of this change, vaccine sites will be expanded to include large public venues and more retail pharmacy locations. 

Instead of withholding doses to be sure those who got a first vaccination are able to get their second dose on time, the federal government now plans to release most of the available vaccine doses to the states.

“Any vaccine dose in a warehouse could mean one more hospitalization or death,” Azar said at the briefing. As of Monday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), just over 10 million people have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. 

CDC director Robert Redfield, MD, said the new guidelines are in line with previous planning and that the government had never intended for one phase of vaccinating to end before beginning another. 

No Change Intended For Dosing Schedule

During the press briefing, Secretary Azar said that no changes are recommended regarding the timing for the second doses. The recommendation continues to be based on the labeling under the Food and Drug Administration’s emergency use authorization for both Pfizer (21-day separation between doses) and Moderna (28-day separation between doses). 

Azar said his team will be briefing President-Elect Biden on the new recommendations. Biden’s transition team previously announced that the President Elect would be speaking about efforts to expand the rate and pace of vaccine distribution and administration this Thursday. 

The new recommendations come as cases and deaths continue to climb in many states. As of January 13, there have been just over 379,000 deaths due to COVID-19 in the U.S. 

“This is the right step to prevent wastage and to help prevent some severe illnesses and death, and help to reduce strain on the healthcare system,” Leana Wen, MD, MSc, FAAEM, an emergency physician and visiting professor of health policy and management at George Washington University, tells Verywell.

At the end of the briefing, Moncef Slaoui, head of Operation Warp Speed the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccine development program, also updated reporters on the pace of COVID-19 vaccinations still in clinical trials: 

  • AstraZeneca: Expected to request an emergency use authorization in early March. 
  • Novavax: Still recruiting for clinical trials. Results expected in late March/early April. 
  • Sanofi: Expected to begin phase 2b clinical trials in mid-February

What This Means For You

Many states now have registration websites for the COVID-19 vaccines. Search online or call 311 to find out how to sign up, especially now that more people are eligible for the vaccine.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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Article Sources
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  1. Ebbs S, Gittleson B, Martinez L. Azar, Trump administration will no longer hold back 2nd shots, recommend 65 and older get COVID vaccine. Updated January 12, 2021.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID-19 vaccines. Updated January 13, 2021.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC COVID data tracker. Updated January 13, 2021.