Why Delaware is expanding vaccinations to everyone 16 and older next week
All Delawareans 16 and older will be eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine starting on April 6.
Vaccines will be available at pharmacies, community vaccination sites and mass vaccination events, state officials said.
Delaware had previously committed to meeting President Joe Biden's directive of making every adult eligible by May 1. Tuesday's announcement will make every adult eligible more than three weeks ahead of that goal date.
To support the influx of newly eligible vaccine recipients, there are more than 100,000 unused doses in Delaware, and state officials expect the vaccine supply to continue increasing.
"We have to keep the supply moving, which is the main reason we're opening up our registration lists," Gov. John Carney said Tuesday.
There's renewed urgency to accelerate the vaccination campaign as COVID-19 cases have started increasing again throughout the region. In the past two weeks, the seven-day average for new cases in Delaware has increased by 52% to 284.6.
State officials and public health experts are concerned another wave of cases and hospitalizations could predate the point at which enough people are vaccinated to limit the effect of the virus.
"We have two competing forces here," said Dr. Jennifer Horney, founding director of the University of Delaware's epidemiology program. "We have the variants and the spread, and we have the vaccination numbers. We just have to get as many people vaccinated as we can now that it’s possible."
Almost 1 in 3 Delawareans have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, 16% of Delaware's population is fully vaccinated.
For the past two weeks, Delaware has been vaccinating people 50 and older, people with medical conditions that put them at high risk for severe COVID-19 and essential workers.
State officials on Tuesday said fewer people 50 and older signed up for the state's waiting list than expected and it is becoming more difficult to fill vaccination events. Before widening the vaccine pool on April 6, the state will have offered an opportunity to everyone 50 and older currently on the list, state officials said.
"The timing is aligning at the right time for us," said AJ Schall, director of Delaware Emergency Management Agency.
Carney said expanding the vaccine recipient pool will also reduce the "friction" experienced in the distribution system, which currently relies on medical providers to determine who is eligible to be vaccinated and which complicating medical conditions should be given priority.
Medical providers, however, will continue to vaccinate only Delawareans 16-64 with moderate- and high-risk medical conditions and disabilities beyond next Tuesday, state officials said.
The state will also continue prioritizing risk factors and age when offering appointments to vaccination events to those on its waiting list.
"I think it's good if the supply is actually available to sustain that," Dr. Marci Drees, chief infection prevention officer and hospital epidemiologist at ChristianaCare, said of Delaware's decision to expand vaccinations.
"We certainly want to make sure that there's going to be enough availability for those people that are in those higher-risk groups to be able to continue to be vaccinated. Once it's opened up to everybody, you wouldn't want all of the appointments taken up by the lowest-risk people, but ultimately we want to get to the place where everyone who wants a vaccine can be vaccinated."
Delaware's decision to expand vaccinations to everyone 16 and older falls in line with recent decisions made by neighboring states to expand vaccinations prior to Biden's goal date.
According to the New York Times, people 16 and older are currently eligible to be vaccinated in 13 states. Delaware joins a list of 22 other states that have universal eligibility dates set before May 1.
Biden on Monday said by April 19 at least 90% of the adult U.S. population will be eligible for vaccination and have access to a vaccination site within 5 miles of their home.
Of the three vaccines granted emergency use authorization in the U.S. – Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson – only the Pfizer vaccine can currently be used for 16- and 17-year-olds. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are approved for everyone 18 and older.
How to sign up for the COVID-19 vaccine in Delaware
- Starting at 10 a.m. Tuesday, April 6, Delawareans 16 and older can register for the state's vaccination waiting list at vaccinerequest.delaware.gov. Invitations will be sent to people on the waiting list for state-run vaccination events.
- Pharmacies can begin vaccinating Delawareans who are 16 and older on Tuesday, April 6. Each pharmacy has its own sign-up process. Links to participating pharmacies can be found at coronavirus.delaware.gov/vaccine/where-can-i-get-my-vaccine/pharmacies/.
- Medical providers – including primary care doctors, specialty providers, and hospital systems – will continue to vaccinate only Delawareans aged 16-64 with moderate- and high-risk medical conditions and disabilities. A list of qualifying conditions and more information can be found at coronavirus.delaware.gov/vaccine/where-can-i-get-my-vaccine/medical-providers/.