A new report out Tuesday warns that a more transmissible variant of coronavirus threatens to start a renewed surge of infections in March, and suggests the US speed up vaccination by skipping second doses for now.
People over 65 should go to the front of the line, since they are by far the most vulnerable to severe disease and death, Epidemiologist Michael Osterholm and colleagues at the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota recommended.
They call on the US Food and Drug Administration and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to quickly assemble advisers to help change vaccination guidelines to get more vulnerable people vaccinated more quickly, before the B.1.1.7 variant of the virus, first seen in the UK, causes more spread.
“If the US experiences a surge similar to that seen in the UK, one could expect to see unprecedented healthcare demand of 175,000 to 193,000 hospitalizations per day — far surpassing the US peak of 132,474 individuals hospitalized with COVID-19 set in early January,” the report reads. Right now, just over 55,000 people are currently hospitalized for Covid-19 in the US, according to the Covid Tracking Project.
“To maintain healthcare capacity during a B.1.1.7 surge, we have a time-limited period to strategically target vaccination to those at highest risk of hospitalization and death before the surge arrives," it adds.
So far, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 44.5 million people have received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine and just under 20 million have gotten both doses.
Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are meant to be given as two doses, three or four weeks apart, but the report recommends delaying that second dose to get more people at least partial protection.
“There is a narrow and rapidly closing window of opportunity to more effectively use vaccines and potentially prevent thousands of severe cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in the next weeks and months,” it reads.
It also says the FDA should consider authorizing a half-dose of Moderna’s vaccine, based on evidence that even half a dose provides good protection, at least at first.