US opens Covid-19 vaccine eligibility to everyone 16 and over

More than half of US adults have received at least one dose of vaccine

In this April 7, 2021, photo provided by Neighborhood Health, Dr. Pete Cathcart vaccinates Deng Autiak in Nashville. With vaccine supplies increasing in the U.S., the shots are finally reaching thousands of Americans who are homeless. In Nashville, many organizations have set a goal of bringing vaccine to everyone experiencing homelessness by Memorial Day. (Jeremy McCraw/Neighborhood Health via AP)

Everyone in the US aged 16 years and above is now eligible for Covid-19 vaccination, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Monday, meeting a nationwide eligibility goal set by President Joe Biden.

“One of the most important things we can do to get back to doing the things we love is to get vaccinated," CDC chief Dr Rochelle Walensky said in a White House Covid-19 Task Force briefing on Monday.

"I am so thrilled that today all people age 16 and up are eligible for the Covid-19 vaccine, a tremendous step forward in our efforts to end this pandemic.”

People aged 16 years and above who have underlying medical conditions that increase the risk of serious, life-threatening complications from Covid-19 should be among those offered the vaccine first, according to the US health agency's latest recommendations.

Every US state now has vaccine eligibility open to people over the age of 16, meeting a milestone Mr Biden set earlier this month.

He ordered all states to widen eligibility for all by April 19, moving beyond staggered prioritisation for the elderly, essential workers and vulnerable populations.

“We are going to make sure everybody, no matter where you are in the country, has ample opportunity to get vaccinated," White House Covid-19 Co-ordinator Andy Slavitt said on Monday.

Mr Slavitt said that more than 90 per cent of US adults now have a place where they can be vaccinated within 5 miles from where they live.

Many states had moved to expand their vaccine distribution programmes to people from this age group even earlier.

Alaska was the first state to lower statewide eligibility to age 16 and was followed by states including Georgia, Texas and California.

No Covid-19 vaccine is yet authorised for those under 16, although testing is under way.

US regulatory agencies have authorised three vaccines for use: the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, although use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is on pause over concerns over rare blood clot issues.

The Pfizer vaccine is the only one that is approved for those between 16 and 18 years old.

The US also marked another milestone at the weekend, in which more than half of US adults – more than 129 million people over the age of 18 – have received at least one dose, according to the CDC. Only 39 per cent of US adults are fully vaccinated.

The country is recording a seven-day average of 67,000 daily cases, keeping the US in a precarious situation with a high number of infections.

"We remain in a complicated stage," Dr Walensky said.

"On the one hand, more people in the United States are being vaccinated every single day at an accelerated pace. On the other hand, cases and hospitalisations are increasing in some areas of the country, and cases among younger people who have not yet been vaccinated are also increasing.”

More than 567,000 people in the US have died from Covid-19, by far the highest death toll globally.