NEW YORK, Jan 8 (Reuters) - President-elect Joe Biden wants to release more available doses of coronavirus vaccines when he takes office, a spokesman said on Friday, as the United States capped the first week of the new year with grim pandemic numbers.
The plan would be a departure from the Trump administration strategy of holding back a supply to ensure that required second doses of the vaccines are available. Manufacturing would have to be consistent enough to supply those second doses on schedule, three or four weeks after the first.
"The President-elect believes we must accelerate distribution of the vaccine while continuing to ensure the Americans who need it most get it as soon as possible," TJ Ducklo, a spokesman for Biden's transition, told Reuters.
The U.S. vaccine rollout has begun slowly as hospitals have not been able to administer the shots as quickly as they received them. A federal program aimed at inoculating residents and staff at long-term care homes has also lagged.
One problem is there is no federal infrastructure or plan in place for administering the vaccines once they have been distributed, leaving states to design their own strategies with little funding to do so.
The monumental effort has fallen far short of the goal of getting 20 million people vaccinated that the Trump administration had vowed to reach by the end of 2020.
Biden, a Democrat, will succeed President Donald Trump in less than two weeks.
A group of Democratic governors, including those from California, New York, Washington, Illinois and Michigan, this week sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar urging Washington to distribute "the millions of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine doses that are currently being held back by the Trump administration."
As of Thursday, roughly 6 million people across the United States had received a first injection of the vaccines, accounting for less than one-third of more than 21 million doses shipped to date, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Some people began getting their second doses this week.
The CDC has said that healthcare workers and nursing home residents and staff should have priority for the limited supply of vaccines. On Friday the agency clarified that it was recommending states can also move to its next priority: people over 75 and essential workers.
New York on Friday became the latest state to expand its vaccination rollout to elderly people, with Governor Andrew Cuomo announcing that people aged 75 and over could start receiving the shot next week.
In Arizona, where people over 75 are eligible to receive the vaccine in some counties, Republican Governor Doug Ducey said on Friday the state will use the Arizona Cardinals' football stadium as a 24-hour vaccination site to speed up the process.
In Texas, Florida and Georgia, which are among some dozen states that have either begun or will soon start inoculating the vulnerable elderly, people over 65 are eligible for a shot. West Virginia and Indiana are so far limiting the vaccine to those over 80.
West Virginia leads the country in the pace of first-dose inoculations, having administered 59% of its allotted vaccine supply, according to CDC data.
The pandemic showed no sign of abating this week, claiming the lives of more than 4,000 people across the country for the second consecutive day on Thursday, or one life lost every 22 seconds, according to a Reuters analysis of public health data.
With a total of over 365,000 deaths, one in every 895 U.S. residents has died of COVID-19 since the pandemic started, according to Reuters calculations.
Daily new cases reached a record 272,563 on Thursday.
The latest COVID-19 surge has been compounded by the spread of a new, more infectious coronavirus variant first detected in the United Kingdom that has now been found in at least eight U.S. states.
More than 132,000 Americans were hospitalized due to the coronavirus as of late Thursday night. The total number of U.S. cases since the pandemic began rose to a staggering 21.5 million, as strict mitigation measures, ignored by many, further taxed the fragile U.S. economy.
The loss of 140,000 nonfarm payroll jobs in December, reported by the Labor Department on Friday, was concentrated in the leisure and hospitality sector. It has been especially hard-hit by the pandemic, with closures of bars and restaurants accounting for three-quarters of the job losses.
Even so, better-performing sectors such as retail, manufacturing and construction offered hope the nation would not slip back into recession, together with the prospect of more fiscal stimulus now that Democrats have gained control of the U.S. Senate with two victories in Georgia this week.
(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicut, Maria Caspani, Gabriella Borter, David Schwartz, Doina Chiacu and Peter Szekely; Editing by Dan Grebler, Bill Berkrot and Sonya Hepinstall)