Biden takes steps to boost number of vaccine doses sent to states

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The Biden administration announced Tuesday that it is increasing the weekly supply of COVID-19 vaccine doses sent to states by about 16 percent, part of a range of new steps aimed at improving the distribution of vaccines across the country.

The supply of vaccines going to states will increase from 8.6 million to 10 million doses per week for at least the next three weeks, officials said, due to releasing more doses of the Moderna vaccine. 

“This is going to allow millions more Americans to get vaccinated sooner than previously anticipated,” Biden said Tuesday in remarks at the White House. “We’ve got a long way to go, though.”

States, which have been left to carry out the challenging task of actually getting vaccine doses into people’s arms, have complained that communication with the federal government has been insufficient to be able to properly plan. To help remedy that, the Biden administration said it will inform states of their coming vaccine allocation three weeks instead of one week ahead of time to allow more time to plan. 

“These two steps are going to help increase our prospects of hitting or exceeding, God-willing, the ambitious goal of 100 million shots in 100 days,” Biden said.

Finally, the administration said it will purchase an additional 100 million doses each of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, bringing the total amount on order to 600 million doses, enough for 300 million Americans to each get two doses. The additional doses are expected to be ready “over the course of the summer,” a senior Biden administration official said.

Still, even with these steps aimed at improving the vaccine rollout, it will be several months before the vaccine is available on a widespread basis. There simply are not enough doses for everyone at the moment, and getting shots in arms has also proven to be a daunting logistical challenge. 

Reacting to early reports of the announcement, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R)  said Tuesday that an additional 16 percent vaccine allocation would not make much difference. 

“So we get, instead of 10,000 a day, we get another 1,000 a day?” he told reporters. “We’re doing 18,000 a day so that’s not going to make much of a difference to us at all.” 

The new administration has been under pressure to improve the rollout. The announcement came after top Biden administration officials have struggled to answer how much vaccine is in the national stockpile and offered differing timetables for when Americans who want to get the shot will be able to or when the country might reach herd immunity.

Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious diseases expert, said last week his idea of the “best case scenario” is that 85 percent of Americans would be vaccinated by the end of summer, with the country seeing a “degree of normality” by the fall.

President Biden on Monday said every American who wants a shot should be able to get one this spring, with the country approaching herd immunity by summer. He added that he was hopeful the country could soon reach the threshold of 1.5 million vaccinations per day amid criticism that doing 1 million per day was not ambitious enough to reach herd immunity this year.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Tuesday sought to reset expectations in the wake of those remarks, clarifying that the administration’s stated goal remains to vaccinate 100 million Americans in Biden’s first 100 days in office.

“It was a goal that was set with contingencies we need to plan for in mind, and he is going to continue to push the team to meet that goal and go beyond it,” Psaki said.

The administration is also planning to use the powers of the Defense Production Act to direct companies to increase production of supplies like special syringes and raw materials like lipids needed to make the vaccines, in an effort to move the effort along faster. 

Data from the Phase 3 trial for a third vaccine, produced by Johnson & Johnson, is expected by early next week. The company said Tuesday it is on track to have 100 million doses by the end of June if it proves to be safe and effective, which would greatly bolster the U.S. supply, given that each person only needs one dose of that vaccine. 

Still, a senior administration official said Tuesday that the administration wanted to provide a cushion by purchasing more Pfizer and Moderna doses, given it is not certain that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be authorized. 

“We wish we could say today that every American who wanted to be vaccinated could go get vaccinated. That’s clearly not the case,” the senior administration official said. “That’s not the level of supply that we found when we arrived. And it’s going to take a number of months for us to be in a position where we can actually say to Americans that it is open season, as Dr. Fauci calls it, to sign up for vaccinations.”

Biden himself sought to steel Americans for the difficult weeks ahead while vaccine distribution gets ramped up, acknowledging the country is likely to surpass 500,000 deaths from the virus by the end of February.

“The brutal truth is, it’s going to take months before we can get the majority of Americans vaccinated. Months,” he said. “In the next few months, masks, not vaccines, are the best defense against Covid-19.”

Nathaniel Weixel contributed. Updated at 5:19 p.m.

Tags Anthony Fauci Biden transition Coronavirus COVID-19 Jen Psaki

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