People 16 and older will be eligible for immunization against the coronavirus in at least 15 states by the end of the month — a sign of rapidly expanding access to the shots as the nation confronts an uptick in infections.
More widespread availability is made possible by enlarged supply of the three authorized vaccines. The federal government is preparing to distribute as many as 35 million doses next week, according to a federal official. That includes 11 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot vaccine, which so far has been available to states and other jurisdictions in sharply limited quantities.
With ramped-up manufacturing, rationing is no longer required in many places. Kansas and Minnesota were two of the most recent states to unveil plans to open the floodgates, on Monday and Tuesday of next week respectively.
Six states have already removed eligibility requirements: Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Mississippi, Utah and West Virginia. Those preparing to do so by the end of March also include Indiana, Louisiana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas.
At least 34 states have announced plans to make everyone 16 and older eligible by mid-April, according to a Washington Post review. And Jeff Zients, coordinator of the White House’s coronavirus response, said 46 states and D.C. had already made clear they would prioritize all adults by May 1 — the deadline set by President Biden.
He said opportunities for more Americans to be immunized signaled the program’s success. More than 71 percent of people 65 and older have received at least one shot, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.
Zients acknowledged that some states were rapidly opening up eligibility because they have not been able to fill appointments among their most vulnerable populations, which includes elderly people and those with high-risk medical conditions.
“If there are states that are lagging behind, we’re working with those states to ensure they continue to prioritize the most vulnerable populations,” he said during a Friday briefing.
Health officials stressed that the accelerating pace of inoculations may not be sufficient to ward off another wave of infections. The latest seven-day average of daily cases, which stands at about 57,000, represents an increase of 7 percent from last week, said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky. She warned of a “real potential for the epidemic curve to soar again.”