(Healthday News) — The United States is now poised to have enough COVID-19 vaccines for every American adult by the end of May, President Joe Biden said Tuesday.
The announcement, which came during a brief speech at the White House, accelerates the country’s vaccination goals by two months.
“As a consequence of the stepped-up process that I’ve ordered and just outlined, this country will have enough vaccine supply — I’ll say it again — for every adult in America by the end of May,” Biden said. “By the end of May. That’s progress — important progress.”
How was it possible to speed up the U.S. vaccine rollout?
Biden said his administration provided support to Johnson & Johnson so the company and its partners can make vaccines around the clock, The New York Times reported. In addition to that, the administration brokered a deal in which the pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. would help manufacture the newly approved Johnson & Johnson single-shot coronavirus vaccine.
Although its own attempt at making a COVID-19 vaccine failed, Merck is the world’s second-largest vaccine manufacturer, according to the Times. White House officials described the partnership between the two competitors as historic and said it harkens back to the wartime manufacturing campaigns that former President Franklin D. Roosevelt put into place.
Biden also said Tuesday that he wanted all teachers to receive at least one shot by the end of this month, the Times reported.
Biden’s announcement came days after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized the emergency use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. As of Wednesday, 78.6 million Americans had been vaccinated, with just over 26 million getting their second shot.
Even as vaccinations ramp up, public health officials worry about another surge of coronavirus cases, as new, more infectious variants emerge and states like Texas and Mississippi lift their mask mandates and roll back many of their coronavirus restrictions. Although cases have dropped significantly since January, they are now leveling off, the Times reported.
“We cannot let our guard down now or assure that victory is inevitable,” Biden said Tuesday. “We can’t assume that.”
U.S. will stick with two doses of Pfizer, Moderna vaccines: Fauci
The United States will stick with its plan to give millions of Americans two doses of the Pfizer and Moderna coronavirus vaccines, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Monday.
The nation’s top infectious diseases expert told the Washington Post that shifting to a single-dose strategy for those two vaccines could leave people less protected, allow more contagious variants to spread and make Americans already hesitant to get the shots even more wary.
“We’re telling people [two shots] is what you should do … and then we say, ‘Oops, we changed our mind’?” Fauci said. “I think that would be a messaging challenge, to say the least.”
Fauci said he spoke on Monday with health officials in the United Kingdom, who are delaying second doses to give more people shots more quickly. He said that although he understands the strategy, it wouldn’t make sense in America. “We both agreed that both of our approaches were quite reasonable,” Fauci told the Post.
Some public health experts have asked U.S. policymakers to reconsider whether millions of doses intended as second shots could be distributed as first doses instead — to offer at least some protection to a greater number of people. The issue gained steam after an advisory committee to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday tackled the question while approving Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot coronavirus vaccine.
About 80 percent of adults have yet to get a single dose, according to CDC data.
Fauci told the Post the science shows that a two-shot regimen creates enough protection to fend off more contagious coronavirus variants, while a single shot could leave Americans at risk from these variants. There is insufficient data showing how long the immunity provided by one shot would last. “You don’t know how durable that protection is,” he noted.
Fauci also argued that Pfizer’s and Moderna’s recent commitment to deliver 220 million total doses by the end of March, in addition to Johnson & Johnson’s pledge to deliver nearly 20 million shots this month, should make the issue moot.
“Very quickly the gap between supply and demand is going to be diminished and then overcome in this country,” he said. “The rationale for a single dose — and use all your doses for the single dose — is when you have a very severe gap between supply and demand.”
FDA Approves J&J’s single-dose COVID vaccine
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Saturday approved Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot coronavirus vaccine for emergency use after its advisory panel unanimously backed the vaccine a day earlier.
Adding a third vaccine to the country’s arsenal will help boost the nation’s limited supply of the two authorized shots, from Pfizer and Moderna.
Nearly 4 million doses of the newest COVID-19 vaccine were shipped Sunday night, and will begin to be delivered to states for injections starting on Tuesday, the Associated Press reported.
The White House said the entire stockpile of the newly approved single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine will go out immediately. J&J will deliver about 16 million more doses by the end of March and 100 million total by the end of June.
Advisory panel members said the J&J approval made sense.
“It’s a relatively easy call; it clearly gets way over the bar, and it’s nice to have a single-dose vaccine,” said Eric Rubin, an infectious diseases specialist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and a member of the FDA advisory panel.
Infectious disease experts also welcomed the approval.
“The addition of a third COVID-19 vaccine substantially reduces the time it takes the U.S. to reach herd immunity — when a high enough proportion of the population is immunized and we can disrupt the spread of this disease,” said Dr. Lisa Lee, a public health expert who specializes in infectious diseases.
“Getting 75-85% of the population vaccinated will be easier with this additional vaccine option, especially because it, unlike the first two, does not require a complex frozen or ultra-frozen transport and storage system, and requires only one shot, instead of the two required by the others,” said Lee, who is associate vice president for research and innovation at Virginia Tech.
FDA briefing documents showed the J&J vaccine had an overall efficacy rate of 72 percent in the United States and 64 percent in South Africa, where a concerning variant emerged in the fall and has since spread to the United States, the Times reported.
The vaccine was particularly effective at preventing severe illness or death: It showed 86 percent efficacy against severe forms of COVID-19 in the United States, and 82 percent against severe disease in South Africa. None of the nearly 22,000 vaccinated people in the trial died of COVID-19.
A global scourge
By Wednesday, the U.S. coronavirus case count passed 28.7 million while the death toll passed 515,700, according to a Times tally. On Wednesday, the top five states for coronavirus infections were: California with nearly 3.6 million cases; Texas with more than 2.6 million cases; Florida with over 1.9 million cases; New York with over 1.6 million cases; and Illinois with nearly 1.2 million cases.
Curbing the spread of the coronavirus in the rest of the world remains challenging.
In India, the coronavirus case count was more than 11.1 million by Wednesday, a Johns Hopkins University tally showed. Brazil had over 10.6 million cases and more than 257,000 deaths as of Wednesday, the Hopkins tally showed.
Worldwide, the number of reported infections passed 114.8 million on Wednesday, with over 2.5 million deaths recorded, according to the Hopkins tally.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on the new coronavirus.
SOURCES: The New York Times; Associated Press; Washington Post