Biden vows enough Covid vaccine for all US adults by end of May

The nation press services
2021-03-03 | Since 1 Month

President Joe Biden said Tuesday that the US expects to take delivery of enough coronavirus vaccines for all adults by the end of May, two months earlier than anticipated, as his administration announced that drugmaker Merck will help produce rival Johnson & Johnson’s newly approved shot.

With the bolstered supply, Mr Biden also announced he would be using the powers of the federal government to direct all states to prioritise vaccinating teachers and that the federal government would provide the doses directly through its pharmacy programme.

He challenged states to administer at least one dose of the vaccine to all teachers by the end of March as part of his administration’s efforts to reopen more schools across the nation.

“We’re now on track to have enough vaccine supply for every adult in America by the end of May,” said Mr Biden, who likened the partnership between the two drug companies to the spirit of national co-operation during the Second World War.

The announcement comes as the White House looks to speed the production of the single-dose J&J vaccine and accelerate the nation’s plans to reach “herd immunity” in the US and begin restoring normalcy after the pandemic.

Mr Biden noted that vaccine supply was only one bottleneck towards that goal and that the new challenge will be distributing doses as swiftly as possible.

To that end, the Biden administration told governors Tuesday to prepare for their supplies of vaccine to continue to climb over the coming weeks. Additional doses are also heading towards a federally backed programme to administer doses in more accessible retail pharmacies.

Those pharmacies will be key in getting the vaccines to teachers, which will help reopen schools to better educate pupils who have been at risk at falling behind during the pandemic.

“Let’s treat in-person learning as the essential service that it is,” Mr Biden said.

Mr Biden had originally suggested that the supply would be enough to vaccinate every adult by the end of July. But despite the good news, he was cautious about predicting when the nation would return to normal. He said, “My hope is by this time next year, we’re going to be back to normal,” and added that it could come sooner.

Read More: Joe Biden says US cannot 'let guard down' after FDA approves third Covid vaccine

 

Officials have said Johnson & Johnson faced unexpected production issues with its vaccine and produced only 3.9 million doses before receiving emergency-use authorisation on Saturday. The company has promised to deliver 100 million doses by the end of June.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki also announced Tuesday that the federal government was increasing supplies of the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech 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 Johnson & Johnson shot this week.

On a call with governors Tuesday, White House coronavirus co-ordinator Jeff Zients said states should prepare for administering 16 to 17 million total weekly doses of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines by the end of March, climbing to 17 to 18 million a week by early April. The supply of Johnson & Johnson doses to states, expected to dip after the initial shipment this week, will climb to 4 to 6 million weekly doses by the end of March and 5 to 6 million doses weekly through the end of April.

More than 800,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will also be distributed this week to pharmacies to administer in a separate federally run programme that also includes 2.4 million doses of the other two shots.

Both figures are expected to steadily increase as the White House increasingly looks to the capacity of pharmacy chains like CVS and Walgreens to help speed the nation’s vaccination campaign.

Facing questions about the company’s delivery schedule, Johnson & Johnson Vice President Richard Nettles told politicians on Capitol Hill last week that the company had faced “significant challenges” because of its “highly complex” manufacturing process.

The assistance from Merck was expected to help Johnson & Johnson meet its production commitments and expand supply even further, but the administration did not immediately provide specifics.

Ms Psaki said that an “across the administration effort” was required to have the two historic rivals work together on the vaccines, even though conversations between the two companies have been going on for months.

“There’s a difference between conversations and it moving forward,” she said.

It was not immediately clear when the effect of Merck’s assistance would be reflected in supply. Previously, federal officials cautioned that setting up the highly specialised manufacturing lines to produce vaccines would take months.

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. Ms Psaki said the Biden administration was using its powers under the Defence Production Act to help Merck retool to work on production.

The news was first reported by The Washington Post.

Compared to the two-dose versions produced by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is less resource intensive to distribute and administer, making it a critical piece to US plans to spread vaccinations around the world — but only once those in the US are inoculated. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine can be stored for months at refrigerated rather than frozen temperatures and does not require patients to return for a second dose three or four weeks later.

Johnson & Johnson has set up a global production network that includes brewing bulk vaccine at its Janssen factory in the Netherlands, with a company in the US, 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 US, Italy, Spain and South Africa.

In the scramble to create Covid-19 vaccines, the three Western drug makers who have dominated the vaccine industry for decades — Merck, 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 on developing treatments for Covid-19.

Now, amid the global clamour for more vaccine doses, these heavyweights are helping manufacture doses for less-experienced rivals whose vaccines won the first emergency authorisations from regulators.

Merck has since said it was in talks to help other drug companies with vaccine production but would not say Tuesday whether other deals were imminent.

“Merck remains steadfast in our commitment to contribute to the global response to the pandemic and to preparing to address future pandemics,” the company said in a statement.



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