President Joe Biden on Tuesday announced the White House’s plan to purchase another 200 million doses of Pfizer and Moderna’s two-shot COVID-19 vaccines for distribution over the summer, as well as more immediate steps to speed up vaccinations nationwide.
“This is enough vaccine to fully vaccinate 300 [million] Americans by end of the summer, beginning of the fall,” Biden said, adding that his team will “soon be able to confirm the purchase.”
“This is an aggregate plan that doesn’t leave anything on the table or anything to chance as we’ve seen happen in the last year. I’ve said before — this is a wartime effort.”
The president also announced a plan to give states at least 10 million doses of vaccines a week, up from 8.6 million, for the next three weeks. To help states plan better, the federal government will forecast their allocation of doses three weeks ahead of time instead of one, an Operation Warp Speed practice seen as hobbling planning for vaccinations.
“We wish we could say today that every American who wanted to be vaccinated could go get vaccinated — that’s clearly not the case, that’s not the level of supply that we found when we arrived,” said a senior Biden administration official, speaking on background ahead of the president’s remarks.
“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.”
Purchase of the additional doses — 100 million from Pfizer and 100 million from Moderna — will bring total assured purchases of authorized doses to 600 million. The administration official would not specify when the doses would be delivered, only saying those doses would be distributed “over the course of the summer.” In 2021, summer officially ends on Sept. 22.
The terms of the federal government’s agreements with Moderna and Pfizer reached under President Donald Trump allowed for the potential purchase of additional doses, but options to get more doses through the beginning of April remain limited due to manufacturing capacity. A third vaccine manufacturer, Johnson & Johnson, is expected to announce its late-stage clinical trial data next week. If authorized by the FDA in February, its one-dose vaccine would also significantly increase the supply in the US, with the company projecting 100 million doses available by June.
With some 23 million doses of the two authorized vaccines now administered nationwide and more than 40 million distributed, the Biden administration has faced increasing pressure in its first week to up its campaign pledge of administering 100 million shots in its first 100 days.
The rate of 1 million vaccinations a day it requires has already been met — on average, 1.17 million vaccines have been administered per day over the last week — and some public health experts have called for doubling or tripling that rate to flatten COVID-19 case numbers only now declining from a record-breaking winter surge. The arrival of extra-contagious coronavirus strains on US soil also increase the urgency for a faster vaccination campaign.
While Biden seemed to up the goal to 150 million shots on Monday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki later walked back his projection.
“100 million shots in 100 days is not the end point — it’s just the start,” Biden said on Tuesday. “We’re not stopping there. The end goal is to beat COVID-19. The way we do that is to get more people vaccinated, which means we have to be ready after we hit the goal of 100 million shots in 100 days.”
Even if more doses are delivered into the summer, many public health experts are warning that some states may not be able to give doses to people without more support to actually administer them. As a result, while some states have faced dire shortages, Operation Warp Speed officials have said other states are leaving shots unused.
Worldwide, 100 million COVID-19 cases were reported on Tuesday. A quarter of those cases were in the US, where more than 423,000 people have died from the coronavirus so far.
“Everyone’s expectations for vaccination need to be reset,” North Carolina State University public health systems expert Julie Swann, who worked on the H1N1 vaccination campaign, told BuzzFeed News. “Overly optimistic projections of the number of doses available has set up the population for disappointment.”