Biden announces deal for 200 million more COVID-19 doses

Author: Alexander Tin / CBS
President Joe Biden speaks as Kizzmekia Corbett, an immunologist with the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institutes of Health looks on during a visit to the Viral Pathogenesis Laboratory at the NIH, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021, in Bethesda, Md. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Joe Biden announced Thursday his administration has finalized an order for 200 million more doses of COVID-19 vaccine to be delivered by July 2021, adding to the 400 million doses that the Trump administration had already ordered from Pfizer and Moderna by that date. The two drug companies both produce a two-shot regimen, so the total 600 million doses will vaccinate 300 million people — most of the U.S. population.

“Within three weeks, round-the-clock work of so many people, people standing behind me and in front of me, we’ve now purchased enough vaccine supply to vaccinate all Americans and now we’re working to get those vaccines in the arms of millions of people,” Biden said in remarks at the National Institutes of Health.

The president also said the companies were on track to supply their initial orders of each vaccine weeks earlier, distributing their first 200 million doses each by the end of May.

“That’s a month faster,” said Biden. “That means lives will be saved.”

Though snafus with complicated vaccination scheduling systems and mishandled doses have hampered the vaccine rollout, local and state health authorities have insisted the key issue they faced was that demand far outstripped supply at most clinics.

“The fact is, they can’t schedule an appointment for a vaccine that does not yet exist. The basic problem is pretty simple: We need more damn vaccines,” Maryland Governor Larry Hogan said at a press conference on Thursday.

The U.S. has administered millions more doses than any other country in the world, according to figures tracked by Johns Hopkins University, though the share of the total American population vaccinated remains small.

To speed vaccine production, the Biden administration has repeatedly pledged to invoke the Defense Production Act to secure key supplies to manufacture the doses. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said last month that the administration had wielded the wartime production powers to prioritize orders for “lipid nanoparticles” and “bioreactor bags” for vaccine-makers.

Pfizer’s and Moderna’s requests to the FDA to count an additional dose in vials of their vaccine also likely factor into the acceleration of the timeline, after vaccine providers discovered in December that specialized syringes could squeeze out the extra shot.

The administration said last month that all shipments of Pfizer’s vaccine would come with enough syringes for the bonus sixth dose.

“Moderna is working with its domestic manufacturing partners and the U.S. FDA to continue to explore ways to accelerate delivery,” the company said in a release Thursday.

The Trump administration had previously also touted its use of the Defense Production Act to accelerate vaccine manufacturing. A total of 18 contracts for the nearly 800 million doses it had ordered from several drug manufacturers were prioritized last year amid the pandemic, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report.

The GAO noted that even before the COVID-19 pandemic, “most existing vaccine manufacturing capacity was already in use.” Ramping up manufacturing required building out new capacity as well as diverting resources from some other medicines.

“All manufacturing capacity in the U.S. that can be used for COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing is being used,” BARDA Director Gary Disbrow previously told CBS News.

The Biden administration committed early “to doing 100 million vaccinations in the first 100 days,” a goal that aides soon acknowledged the country had already been on track to accomplish when taking office.

“As you can see in our vaccination progress report, our seven-day average daily doses administered is now 1.5 million shots per day, up from 1.1 million only two weeks ago,” Jeff Zients, the White House’s COVID-19 response coordinator, said at a press briefing Wednesday.

At the NIH, the president said Thursday that his 100-million-shot goal was “just the floor.”

“I believe that we’ll not only reach that, but we’ll break that,” Biden said, adding, “our end goal is beating COVID-19.”

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