Feds Buying 200 Million More Vaccine Doses, but Still a Long Road Ahead

Officials said during the Biden administration’s first Covid-19 briefing that the government is purchasing 200 million more doses of vaccines, but acknowledged it will be months before everyone who wants a shot can get one.

A pharmacist prepares a dose of Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine at UC Davis Health in Sacramento, Calif., on Jan 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Noah Berger, Pool)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Health officials said Wednesday that President Joe Biden’s goal of achieving 100 million Covid-19 vaccinations within his first 100 days in office is being constrained by two issues: the supply of shots and how quickly they can enter Americans’ arms.

Acting Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Andy Slavitt said during the administration’s first coronavirus briefing that the White House is taking action to increase vaccine supply, noting Biden had invoked the Defense Production Act last week. But he said it would still be months until every American who wanted a vaccine is able to get one.

About 47 million doses have already been delivered to states and long-term care facilities, with roughly 24 million shots administered so far nationwide.

It will take 500 million vials to vaccinate every American over 16 with a two-dose regiment of vaccine, using both Moderna’s and Pfizer’s vaccines, Slavitt said during the virtual briefing. The government plans to buy another 200 million doses from both companies this year.

“Pfizer and Moderna are committed to delivering a total of 200 million doses by the end of March, with much of it coming at the end of the quarter, so it will accelerate,” Slavitt said. “Pfizer yesterday announced that they think they can deliver 120 million doses this quarter.”

Slavitt also lamented the lack of a vaccine stockpile left behind by the Trump administration.

“I would love to tell you that we inherited a situation where there were stockpiles and stockpiles of vaccines sitting there. That is not the case. And it is our job to level, both with the governors and with the public,” he said.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, outlined some therapeutics being used to combat symptoms and virus mortalities, including the antiviral drug remdesivir, which the Food and Drug Administration has authorized for emergency use.

Another drug, anti-inflammatory medication called dexamethasone, has been shown to help those hospitalized and on ventilators or people who need supplemental oxygen, he said. 

A number of interventions had proven successful to mitigate early infections of Covid-19, Fauci said. Anticoagulants, some monoclonal antibodies and other therapies are currently going through clinical trials to gauge their efficacies, but others like plasma infusions have already proven effective in those with infections that were identified early.

Fauci also expressed hope that officials will have more information in the coming weeks about Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine. That shot uses an adenovirus vector method that is different from the mRNA vaccines produced by Moderna and Pfizer. Scientists will also monitor how effective vaccines are against several coronavirus variants coming from the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil.

“We’ll have some comparative efficacy, which will inform us on where we would go if the eventuation occurs that we do have that particular lineage that would seed itself in the United States,” Fauci said.

He noted some cases of those Covid-19 mutations have already been found in the U.S., including 293 reported infections of the U.K. variant and one of the Brazilian strain. Both are said to spread more easily.  

Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, who leads Biden’s taskforce on health equity, said the administration is committed to ensuring access to vaccines, especially in underserved communities and among vulnerable populations. About 16 states are reporting race or ethnicity data for vaccinated Americans, Nunez-Smith said, but there are other ways officials are looking at demographic breakdowns to help decide who gets vaccinated first.  

“The CDC for example has a metric around social vulnerability,” Nunez-Smith said. “Many states are using that now, we encourage the use of equity metrics such as that as states are doing their mapping and planning so we can think about things like neighborhoods and communities, as ways to track as well.”

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