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Officials considering administering half doses of Moderna vaccine in hopes of speeding up rollout

Some officials say move would come with big risks
Moderna Vaccine
Posted at 6:23 AM, Jan 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-05 08:33:21-05

A key official heading up the federal government’s effort to distribute COVID-19 vaccines says the FDA is considering distributing half doses of the Moderna vaccine to younger patients in the hopes of inoculating more Americans — but top officials in the FDA say doing so could come with risks.

So far, just over 4 million Americans have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. That puts the U.S. far behind schedule, as officials with Operation Warp Speed said in December that they hoped to distribute 20 million doses by the end of 2020.

In an effort to speed up distribution, Dr. Moncef Slaoui — the chief medical adviser to Operation Warp Speed — said during an appearance on CBS’ Face the Nation on Sunday that the government is considering distributing half doses of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine to people aged 18-55.

Moderna’s vaccine requires two shots — an initial dose, and a second dose that is taken four weeks later. However, studies show that just one shot of the Moderna vaccine will provide some protection against COVID-19 for some patients.

On Sunday, Slaoui told CBS News that regulators were discussing changing guidance to allow single doses of the vaccine to be distributed in the hopes of immediately limiting the spread of the virus.

"We know it induces identical immune response to the hundred microgram dose and therefore we are in discussion with Moderna and with the FDA," Slaoui said.

“…I think that's a more responsible approach that would be based on facts and data to immunize more people,” he added.

According to CNN, one study has shown that choosing to administer single doses could reduce the number of new COVID-19 cases by up to 10% in the span of three weeks and up to 29% in the span of eight weeks.

Slaoui said that ultimately, the decision to change the guidance on the Moderna vaccine lies with the FDA, and that he remains “in discussion” with top FDA officials about a change in recommendation.

However, according to CNN, FDA Director Dr. Stephen Hahn and the head of the agency’s vaccine division, Dr. Peter Marks, remain hesitant at the moment to recommend the change.

"At this time, suggesting changes to the FDA-authorized dosing or schedules of these vaccines is premature and not rooted solidly in the available evidence," Hahn and Marks said in a joint statement, according to CNN. "Without appropriate data supporting such changes in vaccine administration, we run a significant risk of placing public health at risk, undermining the historic vaccination efforts to protect the population from COVID-19."

Dr. Paul Offit, a member of the FDA’s vaccine advisory committee, told CNN that administering half doses of Moderna’s vaccine is a “terrible” idea.

"There's no data on efficacy of a half dose. If you use a half dose, you're just making it up. You're just hoping that you're right," Offit told CNN. "Why would you dare to make up something when you don't know whether or not it works?"