Biden aims to vaccinate all adults before fall
With manufacturers ramping up U.S. supply, efforts turn to delivering, administering shots
WASHINGTON — It sounded so ambitious at first blush: 100 million vaccination shots in 100 days.
Now, one month into his presidency, Joe Biden is on a glide path to attain that goal and pitching well beyond it to the far more ambitious and daunting mission of vaccinating all eligible adults against the coronavirus by the end of the summer.
Limited supply of the two approved COVID-19 vaccines has hampered the pace of vaccinations — and that was before extreme winter weather delayed the delivery of about 6 million doses last week. But the United States is on the verge of a supply breakthrough as manufacturing ramps up and with the expectation of a third vaccine becoming available in the coming weeks.
That means the act of delivering injections will soon be the dominant constraint, and it’s prompting the Biden administration to push to dramatically expand the universe of those who will deliver injections and where Americans will meet them to get their shots.
“It’s one thing to have the vaccine, and it’s very different to get it in someone’s arms,” Biden said Friday as he toured Pfizer’s manufacturing plant in Portage, Mich. The company is set to double its pace of vaccine deliveries in the coming weeks.
Since their approval in December, more than 75 million doses of the two-shot regimen of Moderna and Pfizer vaccines have been distributed, of which 63 million have been injected, reaching 13 percent of Americans. Nearly 45 million of those doses have been administered since Biden’s inauguration Jan. 20.
The pace of deliveries of those vaccines is about to take off. About 145 million doses are set for delivery in the next 5½weeks, with an additional 200 million expected by the end of May and 200 million more by the end of July.
That’s before the expected approval by the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use of a third vaccine, from Johnson & Johnson. The single-dose J&J vaccine is expected to help speed the path to immunity and requires half the vaccination resources of the two-shot regimens. But there is no massive stockpile of J&J doses ready to roll out on day one.
“We’re going to be starting with only a few million in inventory,” White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients said last week. Still, when combined with the expected increases in the other vaccines, the J&J doses could prove the pivotal advance in delivering enough shots for nearly all American adults by the end of June, at least a month earlier than currently expected.
The daily inoculation average climbed to 1.7 million shots per day last week, but as many as double that number of doses are soon expected to be available on average each day. The focus of Biden’s team is now quickly shifting to ensuring those doses can get used.
Biden first set his target of 100 million doses in 100 days Dec. 8, days before the first vaccines received emergency use authorization. By Inauguration Day, it was clear the U.S. was on course to attain that goal.
Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and public health professor at George Washington University, said she would like to see the administration commit to a more ambitious 3 million shotsper-day target.
“I want to see them put that stake in the ground and ask everyone to help them achieve that goal,” she said.
The current pace of vaccination dipped markedly in recent days as winter weather shuttered administration sites in Texas and across the South and as icy conditions stranded supplies at shipping hubs in Louisville, Ky., and Memphis, Tenn.
One-third of the delayed doses have already been delivered, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease specialist, said Sunday. The White House expects that remaining delayed doses will be injected by March 1 and that the daily pace of vaccinations will continue to climb.
Much of the increase, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, comes from people receiving their second dose of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine. The pace of first-dose vaccinations, meanwhile, has been largely steady over the past several weeks, hovering around an average of 900,000 shots per day.
Increasing the rates of firstdose administrations and overall vaccinations will be key to achieving herd immunity — estimated to require vaccination of about 80 percent of the population — in hopes of ending the pandemic and curtailing the emergence of potentially even more dangerous mutant strains of the coronavirus.
That means keeping demand high. The administration has expressed concerns about public surveys showing that tens of millions of Americans are reluctant to get the vaccine, and it is stepping up public outreach to overcome that hesitancy as the U.S. death toll nears 500,000.
The administration has also turned its focus toward identifying new delivery paths for the vaccines beyond those already used by states, including federally run mass vaccination sites, smaller community health centers and retail pharmacies. The White House’s goal is to stand up the sites now so that they will be ready to handle the influx of vaccine in the coming weeks.
The Pentagon has started deploying thousands of active-duty troops to open mass vaccination centers across the country, with plans in place for as many as 100 sites capable of delivering 450,000 doses per day. The first of those facilities opened last week in California, with locations in Texas due to open in the coming days.
“We always knew along the way we would have to provide predominantly federally supported sites,” FEMA’s acting administrator, Robert Fenton, said last week, describing the initial locations as a “pilot” for the larger deployment. “These will continue to grow as supply comes onboard.”