WASHINGTON (CN) — Health officials from the Biden administration announced at a press conference Friday that the Pentagon will deploy troops to help Americans get Covid-19 vaccines.
Coronavirus senior adviser Andy Slavitt said that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin approved a request from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to expedite assistance
“He’s ordered the first contingent of more than 1,000 active-duty military personnel to support state vaccination sites,” Slavitt said. “Part of this group will arrive in California in the next 10 days to begin operations there around February 15.”
The troops will head to two mass vaccination sites announced Wednesday by California Governor Gavin Newsom, catering to urban areas that have been particularly devastated by the pandemic. Newsom’s mass vaccination site announcement followed President Joe Biden’s push to set up 100 mass vaccination centers around the country this month.
Slavitt noted Friday that additional vaccination missions will soon follow and that the Department of Defense will hold its own press conference about the effort later Friday.
Slavitt also made note of three ways the Biden Administration is working to utilize the Defense Production Act: to increase supply of vaccinations, to scale production of at-home Covid-19 tests, and to reduce the U.S.’s long term dependence on foreign production of personal protective equipment supplies.
Tim Manning, national supply chain coordinator for Biden’s Covid-19 response team, said at the conference that the first action gives Pfizer a priority rating so that it can procure needed equipment, like filling pumps and tangential flow filtration skid units, to ramp up vaccine production.
“It’s actions like these that will allow Pfizer to ramp up production and hit their targets of delivering hundreds of millions of doses over the coming months,” Manning explained.
He noted that the U.S. has increased its vaccine supplies it is providing to states by more than 20% since Jan 20.
Manning also announced that the federal government is working with six additional companies, in addition to the $230 million contract with Ellume USA it announced Monday, to surge the manufacturing of at-home test kits. He said 61 million tests could be available by the end of the summer.
“The rapid at-home tests will allow us all to get back to normal activities like work and school,” Manning said, noting that new plants and production lines will be established in the U.S. to reduce vulnerabilities to disruptions in the supply chain.
Lastly, he said, the Biden administration focused on increasing domestic manufacturing of personal protective equipment.
“There’s a great need for masks, shields and gloves, and we currently aren’t producing these at the rate we need to keep up with demand,” Manning said.
While the U.S. is working to increase N95 mask production, Manning noted that it’s also planning to ramp up its production of surgical gloves for health care workers as the country has for the last year been “nearly 100% reliant” on foreign exports.
The U.S. will build plants to make raw materials, nitrile rubber, as well as the gloves themselves in the country, he said.
“By the end of the year we’ll produce more than a billion nitrile gloves a month,” Manning said.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, noted that Johnson & Johnson’s shingle-shot Janssen vaccine, which proved 72% effective at preventing mild and severe Covid-19 cases in U.S. clinical trial volunteers, was submitted Thursday to the Food and Drug Administration for authorization. The data is with the FDA, he said, and they are examining it.
He noted that the evolution of variants of Covid-19, like those that originated in the United Kingdom and South Africa, occurs only when you have a certain degree of replication in the community.
“Viruses will not evolve and mutate if you do not give them an unbridled playing field to replicate,” Fauci said, continuing to emphasize the need for masking, social distancing, staying home, washing hands and getting vaccinated.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said at the conference that the U.S. has continued to see a decrease in Covid-19 cases since the country’s peak number of cases on Jan 8, and that the pace of Covid-19 deaths also appears to be slowing. Still, she said, Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths still remain relatively high.
A CDC tracker shows that more than 6.9 million Americans, or 2% of the country’s population, have gotten two doses of vaccines of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines. Four times as many people have gotten one dose, which studies show is itself at least 80% effective. Around 70% to 85% of the American population needs to be vaccinated to reach herd immunity.
As of Thursday, the nation had 26.7 million confirmed cases of Covid-19 and nearly 456,000 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
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