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Editorial: Depleting 2nd shot reserves of vaccine is too risky

The Detroit News  |  The Detroit News

Incoming President Joe Biden's plan to release all available doses of the COVID-19 vaccines would be a high-risk gamble that could thwart the ability of the inoculations to bring the pandemic under control.

Biden's instincts are correct that the pace of vaccinations is moving too slowly and must accelerate.

But at this point the problem doesn't seem to be a lack of shots, but rather a failure to move them swiftly from storage into arms. Shipping more vaccines is not likely to alleviate that issue.

It would, however, place the effectiveness of the vaccines in jeopardy.

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two injections to achieve full protection. For both, the success rate is pegged at above 90% — if both shots are administered.

The current policy is to hold enough doses in reserve to assure that individuals who have received the first shot will also be able to get the second.

The follow-up doses must be administered on a specific schedule to reach maximum immunity. For the Pfizer vaccine, that's 21 days; for Moderna it's 28 days.

Biden's transition team says the president-elect is confident the companies can make enough doses to be able to deliver the second shots as needed. But that's far from guaranteed. 

An unexpected disruption in the manufacture or distribution of vaccines would risk wasting the doses that have been administered, and could require those who have already received shots to start the cycle over.

There are too many unknowns to take that risk. Biden must be absolutely certain of the ability to produce second shots on time before he rushes out the reserves.

In the meantime, the new administration should focus on speeding up the delivery of vaccines to Americans eagerly awaiting their shots.