Officials suggest delaying vaccine’s 2nd dose to get 1st doses to as many as possible

As coronavirus vaccine supply problems continue to plague the state, some local officials are suggesting delaying the second dose of the vaccine to improve distribution efforts.

On Thursday, Silicon Valley Congressman Ro Khanna sent a letter to CDC officials urging them to consider a "one-dose vaccine strategy" which calls for delaying the second dose for people in order to get first doses to as many people as possible. It’s a decision he came to after talking with a handful of doctors.

"They’re saying we may see another surge come April or May because of all the variants and the biggest thing we can do is get a shot in every American’s arm," Khanna said.

UCSF Department of Medicine Chair Dr. Robert Wachter said he supports delaying a second dose of the vaccine. It’s an idea he and other medical professionals have talked about since last month. Wachter said officials in the United Kingdom are currently delaying the second dose of the vaccine as that country races against its new variant.

"If you look at some of the models, you probably save more lives by getting more high risk people their first doses and then come back and get everybody their second doses even if that causes you to be a week or two or even a month late," Wachter said.

Wachter noted that evidence shows people are 80% to 90% protected after their first dose of the vaccine, but the second dose increases their protection to 95%.

"There's no question that you need the two doses," he said.

The FDA recently said "modest delays" in the administration of the second dose would not be expected to decrease the protection against the virus.

The delay could help given California doesn't have enough vaccines for everyone. Bay Area health departments said Wednesday they have seen allocations of the vaccine slow down compared to shipments they received in December and January. Due to the vaccine shortage, the agencies are urging health systems to prioritize the shot only for people aged 65 and older.

A spokesman for the California Department of Public Health said the state’s goal is to distribute any vaccines it gets in the same week. Currently, the state is averaging 1 million distributions of the vaccine per week. Manufacturers like Pfizer and Moderna send vaccines directly to health agencies.

Of the 6.9 million vaccines that have been shipped across the state, only 60% of the supply has been used. That number is an improvement from a couple of weeks ago when the state had only used about 25% of its supply.

"There's always going to be some excess of supply to the ones injected, but the goal should be that we're up at 80% and we’ve made a lot of progress… I think we'll get there," Wachter added.

State officials said what will help is getting more vaccines in the supply chain, like vaccines from Astra Zeneca and Johnson & Johnson. Those companies have yet receive FDA approval for their vaccines.