States Can Now Ask Other States for Unused COVID Vaccine Doses

The government is reallocating vaccines to states that need it.

Key Takeaways

  • This week, the Biden Administration announced that COVID-19 vaccines will be distributed to states based on demand. Vaccines were initially allocated to states based on population.
  • States will now be able to order vaccine doses that other states are not using.
  • Experts are hopeful that the change will increase vaccination rates across the country.

The Biden Administration announced this week that states will now be allowed to order COVID-19 vaccine doses that other states are not using. If a state does not want to use the doses that it has been allocated, the unused vaccines will go into a pool and be distributed to states that need them.

During a press briefing on May 4, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that "It's really just an indication that we’re at a different phase now than we were even a couple of weeks ago in terms of access to supply, and we want to ensure that we free up unused and unordered doses."

The administration also announced the goal of ensuring that at least 70% of the U.S. adult population has at least one vaccine dose by July 4, as well as having 160 million American adults fully vaccinated by that date. In a fact sheet, the administration said it's making the change “so that life can start to look closer to normal."

The new vaccine allocation plan will look different from how it's been done up until now. Here's what you need to know moving ahead.

Why Vaccine Allotment Needed to Change

Demand for COVID vaccines has been shifting throughout the United States. Some states, like West Virginia, Louisiana, Montana, and Wyoming, have seen a slow down in demand, while Michigan has experienced increased demand for vaccines because of local outbreaks of the virus.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer said during a COVID-19 briefing on April 9 that her state needed more vaccines. “Anyone who looks at a COVID map knows that Michigan is unquestionably a national hotspot right now," said Whitmer. "I am concerned because I believe, as do a number of public health experts, that we really should be surging vaccines to states that are experiencing serious outbreaks."

Amesh A. Adalja, MD

If states are running into a demand problem while others have more brisk demand, it makes sense to adjust shipments accordingly.

— Amesh A. Adalja, MD

At the time, White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients said that there were no plans to allocate more vaccines to states in need. In a press briefing, Zients said that “in terms of the situation in states that are experiencing increases in cases, this pandemic has hit every state, every county hard."

During that briefing, Zients also said that “thousands of people, hundreds of thousands of people have died, and more are dying each day, and there are tens of millions of people across the country in each and every state and county who have not yet been vaccinated, and the fair and equitable way to distribute the vaccine is based on the adult population by state, tribe, and territory."

With the new change, states will no longer be limited to the doses allocated to them based on population.

Will the Change Boost Vaccine Uptake?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 149 million people in the U.S.—or 45% of the population—have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Currently, nearly 33% of the population is fully vaccinated against the virus.

Experts are hopeful that the change in allocation will increase vaccination rates, which have started to slow across the country.

“There is an increasing realization that there are several modifications that are needed in terms of our response to the pandemic,” Stanley H. Weiss, MD, professor at the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School and the Department of Biostatistics & Epidemiology at the Rutgers School of Public Health, tells Verywell. “The first is that clearly there is vaccine hesitancy that we need to confront in a much more comprehensive manner.”

Stanley H. Weiss, MD

It's extremely rational and timely to look at changing distribution patterns to places that need the vaccine from those that aren’t using their allotment to meet the current needs.

— Stanley H. Weiss, MD

However, Weiss says that the variation of vaccination rates across the country also matters. “The initial decision on getting the vaccine out was mainly based on how many people need to be vaccinated based on age and risk factors," says Weiss. "Now, it’s extremely rational and timely to look at changing distribution patterns to places that need the vaccine from those that aren’t using their allotment to meet the current needs.”

“The goal is to match supply to demand and to get as many people vaccinated in this country as possible,” Amesh A. Adalja, MD, infectious disease expert and a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells Verywell. “If states are running into a demand problem while others have more brisk demand, it makes sense to adjust shipments accordingly.”

Weiss says that it's difficult to determine if offering up more vaccines to states that need them will significantly increase vaccination rates. “I don’t know how much this will get many of the people with vaccine hesitancy to actually get vaccinated. It really depends on how much states are going to put effort and funds into doing that.”

Ultimately, Weiss says that it’s unlikely that there will be consistent vaccine uptake across the country. “Some regions will have more than 70% of their population that received at least one shot; others will be below,” says Weiss. He also encourages people to remember that the pandemic is not over yet. “We’re not out of the woods, and even more aggressive attempts are necessary now."

What This Means For You

If you’ve been having a hard time getting a COVID vaccine, that should change in the near future thanks to adjustments to how vaccine doses will be allocated to states. Areas that previously had difficulty getting enough doses to meet demand will now be able to order additional doses that other states don't need.

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.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. CSPAN. White House Daily Briefing.

  2. The White House. FACT SHEET: President Biden to Announce Goal to Administer at Least One Vaccine Shot to 70% of the U.S. Adult Population by July 4th.

  3. COVID-19 State Profile Report.

  4. MLive YouTube. Gov. Whitmer April 9, 2021 COVID-19 Update Press Conference.

  5. The White House. Press Briefing by White House COVID-19 Response Team and Public Health Officials

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). COVID-19 Vaccinations in the United States.

By Korin Miller
Korin Miller is a health and lifestyle journalist who has been published in The Washington Post, Prevention, SELF, Women's Health, The Bump, and Yahoo, among other outlets.