WASHINGTON – The Biden administration said Thursday it had obtained 200 million extra doses of the coronavirus vaccine, enough to inoculate every American adult, but President Biden warned that logistical hurdles would most likely mean that many Americans would not ‘will still not have been vaccinated by the end of the summer.
The extra doses represent a 50% increase in the vaccine and will give the administration the number of doses Mr Biden said last month it needed to cover 300 million people by the end of summer . But it will always be difficult to get those shots in people’s arms. The two vaccines are two-dose regimens, three and four weeks apart. Mr Biden lamented the “gigantic” logistical challenge he faces during an appearance at the National Institutes of Health. He also expressed his open frustration with the previous administration.
“It’s one thing to have the vaccine,” Biden said. “It’s another thing to have vaccinators.”
The Department of Health and Human Services said Pfizer and Moderna would each deliver 300 million doses by the end of July in “regular increments.”
The administration envisions a step-by-step process. Dr Anthony S. Fauci, the government‘s leading infectious disease specialist, predicted Thursday morning that as early as April, any American could begin looking for a vaccine in an “open season” that would expand availability beyond priority categories.
“By the time we get to April, that will be what I would call, for better wording, ‘open season’,” Dr Fauci said in an interview with NBC’s “Today”. “Namely, virtually anyone and anyone in any category could start getting the vaccine.”
But the problem could be giving doses to people who don’t easily seek them out.
Mr Biden carefully avoided letting his White House burn itself down in criticism of his predecessor, but on Thursday he directly attacked Donald J. Trump for what he said was a failure in creating a mass vaccination process. The president, who said he promised to speak openly to Americans about the challenges of the pandemic, accused Mr. Trump of creating a major one by not overseeing the creation of a streamlined vaccine distribution program. “The immunization program was in a much worse situation than what my team and I had expected,” Mr. Biden said.
“While scientists have done their job in discovering vaccines in record time, my predecessor – I’m going to be very blunt about this – did not do his job in preparing for the enormous challenge of vaccinating hundreds of people. millions of people, ”Biden added.
“It was a big mess,” he said. “It’s going to take a while to fix, to be honest with you.”
Trump administration health officials rebuffed these suggestions, pointing to hundreds of briefings Department of Health and Human Services officials offered to the incoming health team, including on the allocation and distribution of vaccines.
The highly decentralized vaccine distribution and administration plans, giving authority to state and local health departments once doses have been delivered, were developed with career staff from control centers and Disease Prevention and Department of Defense.
Officials involved in the last administration’s distribution plans said late last year that outside of the first few weeks, when they carefully managed the flow of second-dose supplies, their plan was still to ship. doses as they became available, and which they never intended. to store doses.
The deal for 200 million additional doses of the coronavirus vaccine delivers on a promise made by Biden in January to increase supply to cover more of the population. He then said the administration was moving closer to a deal with the two manufacturers as part of its broader commitment that some 300 million Americans could receive a dose of the vaccine by the end of the summer or the next. early fall.
On Thursday, Mr Biden said his administration had “now purchased enough vaccine to immunize all Americans.”
Dr Nicole Lurie, who was assistant secretary of health for preparedness and response under President Barack Obama, said reluctance to get vaccinated could influence how quickly some Americans who want to get vaccinated could get vaccinated. , but that more supply would mean more work to obtain the vaccines. people.
“We will reach more and more of the population, and more of the population that you will have to go the extra mile to reach,” she said. “Hopefully as the supply continues to open up, the public still has a strong demand for vaccines. It really is the unknown.
The government had already secured 400 million doses of the vaccine from Pfizer and Moderna, the two companies that have been approved for emergency distribution – doses expected by the end of June. Mr Biden said Thursday that companies will now deliver them by the end of May.
A third manufacturer, Johnson & Johnson, has asked the Food and Drug Administration to clear its single-dose vaccine for emergency use, a decision that could be made by the end of the month and allow the vaccine to be distributed. the first week of March. . But the company is still trying to show that it can produce the vaccine on a large scale at its plant in Baltimore.
Federal officials have so far declined to say how much of this vaccine will be ready for distribution if it crosses regulatory hurdles, but they warn not to expect an influx of new doses of Johnson & Johnson anytime soon.
“We haven’t found that the level of manufacturing allows us to have as many vaccines as we think we need to come out of the door,” said Andy Slavitt, a senior pandemic adviser at the White House recently.
So far, only about 10% of Americans have received at least one dose of the vaccine. On Thursday, the CDC said about 34.7 million people had received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, including about 11.2 million people who had been fully vaccinated.
The pace of vaccinations has been accelerating steadily in recent weeks. The number of shots per day is now around 1.5 million on average, up from 1.1 million two weeks ago. At this rate, Mr Biden will easily fulfill his promise to vaccinate 100 million Americans in his first 100 days in office.
State and federal health officials say the main obstacle to getting more people vaccinated at this point is a lack of supplies. The administration looked for any possible way to speed up production, including a possible breakthrough in which Moderna would fill its vials with more doses, potentially getting millions more doses sooner.
But Mr Biden faces a variety of long-standing manufacturing constraints, including limited open space around the world to manufacture more vaccines, and the delicate and complex nature of vaccine production.
Unlike the last administration, the White pandemic team has notified governors of the planned offer in three-week increments, so state departments will know better how to plan ahead. .
And they’ve taken a much more aggressive approach using federal resources to get the shots fired. The White House announced this week that it is setting up five new vaccination centers, including three in Texas and two in New York that aim specifically to vaccinate people of color. The administration also said it will aim to ship one million doses of the vaccine to 250 federally-supported community health centers in underserved neighborhoods. A new vaccination program for federal pharmacies began this week.
And on Friday, the administration announced it would send more than 1,000 active duty soldiers to Covid-19 vaccination centers across the country managed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
FEMA, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, said it hopes to create around 100 vaccination sites nationwide as of this month and spend $ 1 billion on vaccination measures, including community vaccination sites.
Sharon LaFraniere and Sheryl Gay Stolberg contribution to reports.