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Osterholm: 'It's time to call an audible' on vaccine strategy

Dr. Michael Osterholm says to avoid surge from U.K. COVID variant, U.S. should delay second vaccine dose to prioritize first dose for as many 65+ as possible.

MINNEAPOLIS — After a new coronavirus variant surfaced in the U.K., new COVID-19 cases skyrocketed, and they were forced to hospitalize more patients than ever before.

That caused the country to change strategy, and they began prioritizing getting the first shot of the vaccine to as many people as possible while delaying the second shot that is supposed to come three or four weeks later.

"Let me say right now, we do need to call an audible," said Dr. Michael Osterholm in an appearance on NBC's Meet the Press, where he said the U.S. should do the same.

"We do know if we get a number of first doses in people, particularly 65 years and older, we can really do a lot to reduce the number of serious illnesses and deaths in this next big surge, which is coming," he said.

Osterholm believes the U.K. variant will soon become the dominant strain of the coronavirus in the U.S. 

And he worries that by March or April, that strain, which is believed to be more contagious, could cause another big spike in cases and hospitalizations here.

RELATED: Live updates: More than 400,000 with at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose in Minnesota

"The surge that is likely to occur with this new variant from England is going to happen in the next six to eight weeks. And if we see that happen, we are about to see something like we have not seen yet in this country," Osterholm said.

Osterholm is not the first health expert to say the U.S. should focus on first doses instead of holding on to second doses. The belief is that even one dose would provide enough protection to prevent serious illness from COVID. And as long as the second dose is administered eventually, the patient will have full protection.

So far, Minnesota has given at least one dose to 7.6% of residents.

A spokesperson for Gov. Tim Walz said they are not currently considering a change in vaccine strategy to prioritize first doses, "since that's not the consensus opinion from the experts." But the spokesperson added, "We're all ears should that become the new official guidance."

The Minnesota Health Department released a statement: "At this time guidance from CDC and FDA are that both doses should be administered at the recommended intervals for best protection, so MDH will follow that guidance until we receive something different from the federal government."

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