President Joe Biden is pushing for more shots in arms across America as the White House rolls out new plans and initiatives to boost coronavirus immunizations.
WASHINGTON (CN) — The White House said Tuesday it would direct all pharmacies partnered with the federal government to offer walk-in vaccinations against the novel coronavirus, unveiling a new plan to shore up sagging immunizations.
Coupling the announcement with new benchmarks, President Joe Biden said he wants to see at least 70% of Americans receive at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine by July 4, and at least 160 million Americans fully vaccinated by the same time.
“No one should wait. Let’s try to hit that 70% mark at least with one shot before that day. It’s another huge goal and as you may remember we were initially focused on getting enough vaccines for every adult,” President Joe Biden said Tuesday from the White House. “Now that we have enough supply, we’re asking even more Americans to show up and get the vaccine that is available to them. If we succeed in this effort like we did the last, then we will be making a serious step towards getting back to normal by July 4th.”
While major pharmacies carry the vaccine already, the Federal Emergency Management Agency will also start supporting smaller pop-up clinics for vaccinations that can go where people may have less access. In addition, the White House will invest $250 million in a community-outreach fund, meaning more resources for social workers and specialists on the ground trying to get underrepresented communities vaccinated.
The first round of that funding will be released Tuesday, and the next batch will be distributed later this month.
About $100 million already approved for use in Biden’s $1.8 trillion American Rescue Plan passed this spring will go to 6,600 rural health clinics that need to strengthen their own vaccine campaigns.
And in regions where inoculations are slumping, the president said new plans are underway to shift supplies across the United States.
Though the population of every state determines how much vaccine it receives per week, the White House said it informed governors ahead of the president’s remarks that any doses a state has available but leaves unordered will be distributed to other states that need it.
Carrying untapped doses over from week to week will cease for states as those vaccines go into a federal inventory for redistribution.
Over three months in, the Biden administration has achieved significant milestones on the pandemic front at a breakneck pace — immunizing 200 million Americans with at least one dose of vaccine in its first 100 days. Over recent weeks, however, the broader rate of vaccinations has started to slow. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported at least 20 health departments across the country have not placed a new order for doses this week.
Before the new guidance was announced, most federal supply went to states calculated by population. A portion of the supply — less than 25% — went to pharmacies for allocation. Now, the White House says pharmacies will have up to 49% of vaccine supply delivery to manage.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki emphasized to reporters early Tuesday that the plan is meant to be flexible, not punitive.
The same governors who decided to give up their order of vaccines one week will be allowed to change their minds the next, she said.
“It’s a different phase now then where we were in terms of access to supply,” Psaki said. “We want to make sure we free up unordered doses.”
Young adults 12 to 15 are also on the cusp of eligibility for vaccination against Covid-19, and pharmaceutical giant Pfizer may be ready by fall to vaccinate even younger kids. The Food and Drug Administration is expected next week to authorize emergency use of the Pfizer-BioNTech two-dose inoculation for young people 12 to 15 years old. That comes roughly a month after the age limit was dropped for Pfizer from 18 and up to those 16 and up.
“If that announcement comes, we are ready to move immediately and to make about 20,000 pharmacy sites across the country ready to vaccinate those adolescents as soon as the FDA gives its OK,” Biden said Tuesday. “We’re also going to ship vaccines direct to pediatricians in the coming weeks. You can get a shot from a provider you trust the most, easy, fast and free. And if teens are on the move this summer, they can get their first shot one place and their second shot elsewhere.”
For very young children 2 to 11, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said on a call with investors Tuesday they expect to submit for emergency use for kids by September.
For the sake of expediency, the FDA will not host a meeting of its independent vaccine advisory committee members before the roll out of the vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds when that comes.
According to Pfizer, when their vaccine was administered in clinical trials to that group, it was 100% effective.
For now, the overwhelmingly positive results from clinical trials have left the FDA confident in passing the vaccine through to its critical next step, which comes by way of the CDC.
Once the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices give its stamp of approval, then the vaccine can begin flowing into the new demographic of Americans.
Side effects for adolescents are expected to be like those for adults, with participants in Pfizer-BioNTech’s study reporting fatigue, fever and achiness after the initial dose, as well as some body pain.
So far, however, efficacy and safety has remained so consistent that the pharma giant is expected to announce before the end of this month that its vaccine is poised for emergency use yet again. This time, the authorization would cover the bulk of the U.S. public: anyone ages 16 to 85.
Notably, in a financial report released Tuesday, Pfizer reported generating some $3.5 billion in revenue in its first year distributing its Covid-19 vaccine. Other vaccine makers like AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson have operated on a nonprofit basis during the pandemic. Moderna, which was an upstart when it got into the vaccine game, opted to take the for profit route.
Under Pfizer-BioNTech’s contract with the federal government, the U.S. pays $19.50 per dose. A New York Times report on Pfizer’s first quarter analysis estimates profits reaped before taxes hover close to $900 million.
A representative for Pfizer did not immediately return request for comment.
Since the company last received the OK to administer doses to adults in December, about 32% of Americans or just over 147 million people, have received at least one of their two required shots from them or competitor drug maker Moderna.
Single-dose shots from Johnson & Johnson — using a different technology than the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines to offer full immunization against the novel respiratory virus — have been administered to more than 105 million people so far despite a brief pause prompted by rare clotting in a narrow group of recipients.
For adults having trouble finding a vaccination location, the White House on Tuesday stood up a website, www.vaccines.gov, that allows users to search for a vaccine location by ZIP code. The same service is available via text. By texting a zip code to 438829, people can find a location and set up an appointment.
“This is not a Democrat or Republican issue,” Biden said, adding that people who are not fully vaccinated can still die from Covid-19.
“The science behind the vaccines has been under development for decades,” he continued. “Two of our vaccines were authorized under prior administrations, Republican administrations. My administration is doing the work to get hundreds of millions of shots in arms. While we may not agree on everything, this is one thing we can all agree on.”
Cases of Covid-19 are down overall in the U.S. since a peak that began cresting last Thanksgiving. Total deaths from Covid-19 are near 600,000 but daily death rates nationally have dropped slightly in the last two weeks. As of Monday, the daily death rate, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, was about 733.
Typically, it can take up to a year for the FDA to expand authorization of a drug for widespread public consumption. But a slowdown in vaccinations can also mean hopes of herd immunity are slightly more dashed.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, emphasized this week that, while herd immunity may not be attainable this year, the focus should be on reducing infections overall — especially as virus mutations emerge. Most experts suggest the herd immunity threshold must reach at least 80%. Any other variations on the virus would warrant yet another increase to that already-high threshold.
Biden said Tuesday there should not be any misconceptions about the immensity of the nation’s vaccine goals. Once the Fourth of July comes and goes, people will still be getting vaccinated well into the fall, he said.
The struggle now, with ample supply on hand, is convincing even more people to get the shot. For those who are hesitant, the president offered a suggestion: “Look at the grandparents united with their grandchildren, friends getting together again. This is your choice. It is life or death, and I hope everyone knows within themselves it is a choice that will help them and their loved ones be safe and get our businesses back to normal.”