Vaccine Trickle Becomes Torrent as U.S. Eligibility Rules Widen

It’s taking some effort and some patience. But just as eligibility is opening to millions of people across the U.S. after months of cutthroat competition to find Covid-19 shots, vaccines are starting to stream into people’s arms.

Becky Jacobsen, 41, was ready to drive as long as an hour for a shot as soon as Connecticut made all adults eligible on Thursday. A friend stayed up late to snatch an appointment at a CVS Health Corp. drugstore just 6 miles from Jacobsen’s home in Windsor.

“Another friend is looking for my husband,” the mother of five said by phone as children shouted in the background. “It’s distance-learning day and I’ve got to focus on making sure the kids aren’t on YouTube when they’re supposed to be on Google Classroom.”

President Joe Biden staked his bid on an effective battle against the coronavirus that would center around mitigation measures and assisting states with the swift dispersal of vaccines. States are offering shots to millions of people who want to return to life as it was before Covid, and officials in charge are reporting that the campaign is rounding into form.

The progress offers hope that most adults will be vaccinated this summer before attention shifts to children. Positive data from partners Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE this week could position 12- to 15-year-olds for a shot before the next school year.

Nearly 100 million people, or almost a third of the U.S. population, have already received at least one shot, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The U.S. has administered more doses than any other nation, though it ranks seventh in terms of the percentage of the population with at least one dose, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker.

Nearly half of U.S. states will have opened vaccination to everyone 16 and older by the end of this week. That will rise to about three-quarters, or 35 states, by the end of next week.

Millions more doses are being distributed every week. Moderna Inc. and Pfizer-BioNTech are each on track to deliver enough shots to vaccinate 100 million people in the U.S. by the end of May, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker.

While some 15 million Johnson & Johnson shots were affected by a production issue in Baltimore, that’s not expected to have an effect on Biden’s expectation that the U.S. will have enough vaccine for all adults in May, according to people familiar with the matter. Likewise, delays in the U.S. clearance of AstraZeneca Plc’s vaccine, which is still the subject of side-effect concerns, probably won’t affect the U.S. campaign.

The floodgates are beginning to open in Los Angeles where residents have begged, borrowed and stolen to get appointments. Some people expressed surprise on social media about how simple it’s become.

“I just made an appointment for Wed.,” Matt Oswalt, a comedy writer and photographer wrote on Twitter this week. “Took 2 minutes to book it. Easy, they have tons of slots open.”

Not everyone is having as much luck. Judith Romano from Ashland, Massachusetts, got her first of two Pfizer shots on Thursday at a Boston clinic, but said her husband, a grocery clerk in his late 50s, has still been unable to schedule one through the state sign-up system.

“He’s been trying, trying, trying trying,” she said. “People say, ‘Oh, you’ve got to get on at like 4 a.m. And just wait.’ But that’s silly. Why should you have to do that?”

Each time her husband fails to get a slot, “he curses,” she said.

Alabama remains one of the slowest states in the U.S. for getting vaccines into arms. But its performance has been improving, particularly in poor minority areas that weren’t getting doses in the campaign’s first several weeks.

Alabama Regional Medical Services, a low-income clinic in North Birmingham, didn’t get a single dose through the end of February. In March, though, it got nearly 5,000 from the state, said Chris Mosley, a spokesman for the clinic.

The shift was partly because the state eased guidelines to include essential workers – many of them minorities – but largely because of coordination with community groups, Mosley said.

“Now vaccination sites are sprouting up like spring flowers,” he said. “It’s become almost a friendly competition, to see who can give out the most.”

The region has two mass-vaccination sites now, one inside an airport. People have also learned to be patient, Mosley said.

When the Alabama clinic drew a crowd of 350 for its first 200 doses, 11 disabled men living in a nearby group home were among those turned away. They got their shots last week, “after a year of being shut in, no place to go,” Mosley said. That night, their caregiver called Mosley and held the phone up.

“Thank you,” the 11 shouted in unison.

Some states are still proceeding cautiously. New Jersey has so far held firm to its May 1 expansion date despite neighboring New York qualifying all adults on April 6. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy acknowledged that the state’s vaccination-scheduling website will be strained.

“When you add a new group of people you add, at least temporarily, to the supply-demand imbalance,” he said Wednesday in a briefing, “but I’m confident that the system will hold up well.”

Pennsylvania scheduled universal eligibility for April 19, yet Philadelphia, which receives its own supply, plans to stick to its May 1 date, James Garrow, a spokesman for the city’s public health department, said in an email.

Alabama health officials are in conversations with the governor’s office about whether the state can offer vaccination to every adult before May 1, the deadline Biden set, assistant state health officer Karen Landers said.

“We do recognize we could have bottlenecks, but at the same time we are anxious for our citizens that want the vaccine to be able to receive it,” she said in an interview.

People need to understand that supply won’t magically increase, Washington state Secretary of Health Umair Shah said during a briefing Thursday. Some are learning that firsthand.

Jacobsen felt the pressure when Connecticut made her and every other adult able to get vaccinated. She couldn’t stay glued to her phone because she was busy wrangling five kids between the ages of 4 and 13, who could also take some time to get vaccinated.

“It feels chaotic and nerve-wracking,” Jacobsen said. “If you get an appointment you feel lucky. I don’t doubt everyone will get it at some point but it’s kind of like a mad rush for food in a soup line or something. I’m trying to think of the best way to describe it. It’s just unnerving.”

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