More seniors will be able to start getting their first COVID-19 vaccinations after top federal health officials ordered states to expand their priority groups for doses this week. 

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar during a media briefing Tuesday said the federal government has made about 38 million total doses of vaccine, including about 25 million first doses, available to states. He added that the doses allocated now exceed the demand from seniors living in long-term facilities and frontline healthcare workers.

Officials also expect that 95% of long-term care facilities will have had their first visit with vaccine doses by the end of next week, Azar noted. 

“All of this means it’s time to move onto the next phase of the vaccination campaign, as we had planned to do when the data showed we could,” he said.

The federal government is now calling on states to open vaccination to all people age 65 and over, and to people under 65 that have a comorbidity. 

“Expanding eligibility to all of the vulnerable is the fastest way to protect the vulnerable. It’s simply much easier to manage allocating vaccines and appointments to everyone over 65 rather than narrower, more complex categories, and it enables states to use much more diverse administration channels,” Azar said. 

“There was never a reason that states needed to complete vaccinating all healthcare providers before opening vaccinations to older Americans and other vulnerable populations. States should not be waiting to complete 1A priorities before proceeding to broader categories of eligibility,” he added. 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield, M.D., added that the country is “now at a time where actually there’s more vaccine available than what’s being requested.” 

“We clearly have enough vaccine at this point to begin to expand and get more and more of the vulnerable individuals in our country vaccinated,” Redfield said.

See additional coverage in our sister publication, McKnight’s Senior Living, in “Changes open COVID vaccination to independent living, affordable senior housing residents.”