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COVID-19 vaccination effort focused on speed, equity, U.S. health officials say

Feb. 24 (UPI) — As efforts to administer the COVID-19 vaccines to the public continue, the focus remains on distributing the shots with speed and equity, national health officials said Wednesday.

The issue of vaccine equity has been the focus of the National Forum on COVID-19 Vaccine, a virtual meeting of doctors, nurses, public health specialists and others hosted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Although more than 65 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines were administered nationally through Tuesday, based on CDC estimates, reports arose of race-based disparities in those who have received the shot.

Nearly two-thirds of those given the first dose of either of the two-dose vaccines were White, while 9% were Hispanic and 6% were Black, according to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

This occurred even though Black and Hispanic people are three times as likely to require hospital treatment following COVID-19 infection and twice as likely to die from the disease, the CDC said.

“We don’t need to make a choice between vaccinating with velocity and equity,” Dr. Nirav D. Shah, director of the Maine CDC, said during a call with reporters on Wednesday.

Improving equity in access to and administration of the COVID-19 vaccines requires “instilling confidence not only in the vaccines themselves, but in the vaccination process, as well,” he said.

During the National Forum on COVID-19 Vaccine this week, public health officials from across the country discussed ways to make getting vaccinated as convenient as possible, officials said.

This includes efforts to distribute more vaccine supplies to community health clinics and rural cooperative extension nationally as well as making public transportation vouchers available so that those living in poverty can travel to get their shots, they said.

That a one-dose COVID-19 vaccine, from Johnson & Johnson, may soon be available should assist in these efforts. Earlier in the day Wednesday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced that the one-dose shot, which offers 67% protection against the virus, met minimum requirements for an emergency use authorization.

That authorization could come as soon as Friday, according to officials.

With three vaccines available, it should be possible for the United States to “out-vaccinate the variants,” or provide much of the general public with immunity before new, more contagious strains of the virus from Britain and South Africa spread, Shah said.

Through Tuesday, nearly 1,900 cases of the U.K., or B.1.1.7, variant had been reported in the United States, according to the CDC.

In late January, the agency predicted that the variant could become the “predominant” one nationally by the end of March.

“We’re acutely aware that we have the capacity, the mission and the responsibility to deliver as many vaccinations as we can,” Dr. Jay Butler, the CDC’s deputy director for infectious diseases, said Wednesday.

“Despite falling case numbers, deaths and hospitalizations, we can’t take our foot off the pedal in terms of vaccine administration,” he said.

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