Biden: Vaccine for All Adults in May 03/03 06:18
President Joe Biden said the U.S. expects to take delivery of enough
coronavirus vaccine for all adults by the end of May -- two months earlier than
anticipated -- and he pushed states to get at least one shot into the arms of
teachers by the end of March to hasten school reopenings.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Joe Biden said the U.S. expects to take
delivery of enough coronavirus vaccine for all adults by the end of May --- two
months earlier than anticipated --- and he pushed states to get at least one
shot into the arms of teachers by the end of March to hasten school reopenings.
Biden also announced Tuesday that drugmaker Merck will help produce rival
Johnson & Johnson's newly approved one-shot vaccine, likening the partnership
between the two drug companies to the spirit of national cooperation during
World War II.
"We're now on track to have enough vaccine supply for every adult in America
by the end of May," Biden said.
Despite the stepped-up pace of vaccine production, the work of inoculating
Americans could extend well into the summer, officials said, depending both on
the government's capacity to deliver doses and Americans' willingness to roll
up their sleeves.
Biden's announcements quickly raised expectations for when the nation could
safely emerge from the pandemic with the promise of speedier vaccinations, but
even as he expressed optimism, Biden quickly tempered the outlook for a return
to life as it was before the virus hit.
"I've been cautioned not to give an answer to that because we don't know for
sure," Biden said, before saying his hope for a return to normal was sometime
before "this time next year."
As Biden spoke, states across the country were moving to relax virus-related
restrictions. This despite the objections of the White House and the nation's
top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who have warned against any
relaxation of virus protocols until more Americans are vaccinated.
In Texas, GOP Gov. Greg Abbott moved to lift his state's mask-wearing
mandate and a host of other limitations. Michigan's Democratic Gov. Gretchen
Whitmer eased capacity limits on restaurants and both public and residential
Fauci has previously said the nation must achieve a vaccination rate of
about 80% to reach "herd immunity." Only about 8% of the population has been
fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
though the pace of vaccination has been increasing. The U.S. set a new daily
record for injections last Thursday and Friday.
In hopes of increasing vaccinations even further. the Biden administration
told governors to make preparations to administer even more doses in the coming
weeks. More shots are also headed toward the federally backed program to
administer doses in retail pharmacies, which federal officials believe can
double or triple their pace of vaccination.
More than 800,000 doses of the J&J vaccine will also be distributed this
week to pharmacies, on top of the 2.4 million they are now getting from Pfizer
Those pharmacies will be key in getting the vaccines into the arms of
teachers --- particularly in the roughly 20 states where they have not been
prioritized for shots. The aim is to help reopen schools to better educate
students who have been at risk of falling behind during the pandemic and reduce
the burden on parents who have had to choose between childcare and a job.
"Let's treat in-person learning as the essential service that it is," Biden
said. Teachers will be able to sign up directly through participating retail
pharmacies, the administration said.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki also announced Tuesday that the
federal government was increasing supply of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines to
states next week to 15.2 million doses per week, up from 14.5 million
previously. States will also receive 2.8 million doses of the J&J shot this
On a call with governors Tuesday, White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff
Zients said states should prepare to administer 16 million to 17 million total
weekly doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines by the end of March, climbing to 17
million to 18 million weekly by early April. The supply of J&J doses to states,
expected to dip after the initial shipment this week, will climb to 4 million
to 6 million weekly doses by the end of March and 5 million to 6 million doses
weekly through the end of April.
Officials have said J&J faced unexpected production issues with its vaccine
and produced only 3.9 million doses before being cleared for emergency use
authorization on Saturday. The company has promised to deliver 100 million
doses by the end of June.
Before the approval of the J&J shot, Biden had suggested that it would take
until the end of July to have enough vaccine for every adult in the U.S.
Facing questions about the company's slipping delivery schedule, J&J Vice
President Richard Nettles told lawmakers on Capitol Hill last week that the
company had faced "significant challenges" because of its "highly complex"
Psaki said that an "across-the-administration effort" was required to get
the two historic rivals to work together on the vaccines, even though
conversations between J&J and Merck have been going on for months.
"There's a difference between conversations and it moving forward," she said.
The White House said Merck would devote two plants to the production
process. One would make the vaccine and the other would handle inserting the
vaccine into vials and ensuring strict quality controls. Psaki said the Biden
administration was using its powers under the Defense Production Act to help
Merck retool to work on the production.
Still it was not immediately clear when the effect of Merck's assistance
would be reflected in supply. Federal officials have cautioned that setting up
the highly specialized manufacturing lines to produce vaccines would take
Compared to the two-dose versions produced by Moderna and Pfizer, the J&J
vaccine is less resource-intensive to distribute and administer, making it
critical for U.S. plans to spread vaccinations around the world --- but only
once Americans are inoculated. The J&J vaccine can be stored for months at
refrigerated temperatures, rather than frozen, and doesn't require patients to
return for a second dose three or four weeks later.
J&J has set up a global production network that includes brewing bulk
vaccine at its Janssen facility in the Netherlands, and with a company in the
U.S., Emergent BioSolutions, and another in India, Biological E. Ltd. Other
contract manufacturers are lined up to help with later steps, including putting
the vaccine into vials, in the U.S., Italy, Spain and South Africa.
In the scramble to create COVID-19 vaccines, the three Western drug makers
who've dominated the vaccine industry for decades --- Merck & Co., Sanofi and
GlaxoSmithKline --- surprisingly all fell short. Merck halted its own plans to
develop a coronavirus vaccine earlier this year, finding that their candidates
were generating an inferior immune system response compared with other
vaccines. It said it would instead focus its work on developing treatments for
Now, amid the global clamor for more vaccine doses, those heavyweights are
helping manufacture doses for less-experienced rivals whose vaccines won the
first emergency authorizations from regulators.
Merck has since said it was in talks to help other drug companies with
vaccine production, but wouldn't say Tuesday whether other deals are imminent.
"Merck remains steadfast in our commitment to contribute to the global
response to the pandemic and to preparing to address future pandemics," the
Kenilworth, New Jersey-based company said in a statement.
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