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Some aren't getting second dose of COVID vaccine on time

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A new report by CBS MoneyWatch found an increasing number of people are not getting their second COVID-19 vaccine shot when they're supposed to. CBSN's Tanya Rivera spoke with MoneyWatch senior report Stephen Gandel about what this means for the nation's vaccination efforts.

Video Transcript

TANYA RIVERO: The push to vaccinate Americans against the coronavirus appears to have hit another bump. CBS News found a growing number of people are not getting their second vaccine shot when they're supposed to. As of Wednesday, nearly three million people didn't get their second dose at the recommended time. CBS MoneyWatch reviewed the latest data from the CDC and found that accounts for nearly 12% of people who've been vaccinated so far.

Stephen Gandel wrote that piece. He's a senior reporter for CBS News MoneyWatch. Stephen, welcome. Great to have you with us. So why aren't people getting their second dose at the recommended time? What issues are they running into?

STEPHEN GANDEL: Varying issues, all over the place. As you know, this is a very complicated rollout, made even more complicated by the fact that you have to take two doses, not one, to be vaccinated. So it's a various snafus and shipping and scheduling issues that have been going around the country.

In one particular instance, in Iowa, for example, a county that was supposed to get a Pfizer-- I'm sorry, was supposed to get a Moderna shipment of vaccine, they ended up getting a Pfizer shipment of vaccine. Now, with a first shot, that doesn't matter. But with the second shot, you have to have the same second shot of the same vaccine that you got, the variety that you got the first time.

So that meant Iowa having to tell people, well, if you got the Moderna shot, we don't have any more of those. You're going to have to wait. Around 14,000 people were told to wait. And there's other scheduling stuff, in places where people are very eager, and online scheduling systems are offered, and people are eager to get that first shot, they see those second shot appointments open, and they'll sign up for those, when they're not eligible for them, and that bumps other people looking for second shots.

So that's the various problems.

TANYA RIVERO: Interesting.

STEPHEN GANDEL: And the major problem, everywhere, supply, not enough vaccine.

TANYA RIVERO: So interesting, Stephen, you and I talked about this months ago. I don't know if you remember. The worrisome issues that could arise if people didn't get their second shot, for whatever reason. Either the scheduling, or they didn't want to, or whatever the reason may be, and that it could be dangerous in terms of allowing the virus to strengthen, if there were a bunch of people out there who just have half the vaccine.

Is there any evidence, scientific evidence, that that could happen? That a lot of people out there with one shot could strengthen these variants?

STEPHEN GANDEL: So we're already seeing the variance, right? When we talked last time, we weren't really talking that much about variants. So the variants are coming out, whether we have this half vaccinated population or not. So for some people at least, the answer has been not to worry about that issue that we've talked about, which there are some scientists still talking about it, it's still up for debate whether the half vaccination, only getting one dose versus two doses, will lead to more variants.

What we know for sure is one dose is not as protective as two doses. It might still be rather protective, but that difference of say, 75% protection for one dose versus 95% protection, the recent studies that I saw just in the last week show that that means the pandemic is going to last longer.

So we might be able to slow down the infection rate, but it's going to be with us for longer.

TANYA RIVERO: So Stephen, here's a question. For people who did get their first dose and they've missed their window for the second dose, does that mean that the second dose will no longer be as effective as it would have been if it had been administered in the proper window?

STEPHEN GANDEL: Yes, it likely means that. Now how big a drop in effectiveness, we don't know. The CDC says you should go ahead and, even if you've missed your window, and likely within two or three days after, that's probably not going to be a problem. But the CDC has said that even if you've missed, you can go out to 42 days before it's-- you see a dramatic drop. And again, we don't know. The studies were tested for 21 days for Pfizer, 28 days for Moderna. Those are the time periods when you'll have the most effectiveness. But the CDC says if you missed it, you should go ahead and get that second shot anyway.

TANYA RIVERO: So where do you fall, then, on the argument-- people are discussing whether it's better to get as many people vaccinated with the first dose as possible, and just hope that the second dose falls into place, versus people who say no, no, we need to make sure everyone who has a first dose has the second dose lined up within the proper window. Where do you fall in that argument?

STEPHEN GANDEL: So the compelling argument for me is that in three or four months, we're going to have a lot more doses, likely. Right? So that's where this idea of let's wait becomes compelling.

But what we don't know is that while getting one dose versus two doses is less effective, we know that, it's less effective up front. We don't know how long that one dose leaves you immune. We know that getting two doses will leave you a little immune much longer. So what we don't know is that we could get everyone vaccinated with one shot, and before the few months out time happens, people could lose their immunity and we'd have to do, not just another shot for everyone, but two shots.

So that's why, since we don't have the science, most medical professionals say that we'd be better off sticking to the two shot regimens, both of the drug companies say that, and recent studies, as I said, the one I cited that came out last week, it showed that yes, if you only do one shot, there isn't much difference. You don't even slow down infection rates all that much when you go with one shot versus the two shots.

TANYA RIVERO: All right. So that leads us back to the beginning, which is how do we get everybody to get their second shot on time? What needs to happen? Is this a supply issue, is this an administrative issue? Like you said, there's a whole host of reasons that people aren't getting their second shot on time, but if you were to pick one and say, this would make a big difference, what would that be?

STEPHEN GANDEL: Well really, we just don't have the supply to vaccinate as many people as we possibly can with two doses. So the best way to do this is to actually, unfortunately, it's not going to sound like great medicine, but the best thing to do is actually to slow down the distribution of first shots for right now.

I think when this vaccination rollout started, we were basically in a plan where one dose was being given, and half the other doses were being held back. That turned out to be not optimal. But we've moved to this situation where we're giving out every dose, and you know what? And now we're seeing the problem with that is that second doses aren't available. So that's not optimal.

Somewhere in between, we need to find whatever that area is, if it's 75% of the doses should go out, if maybe we should come back closer to 50%, I don't know. But probably the best medicine, which is not an easy medicine right now, would be to slow down the process a little bit.

TANYA RIVERO: All right. Well, Stephen Gandel, thank you so much for your insight. We appreciate it.