Biden administration to buy 200 million more doses of Covid vaccine

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The Biden administration is planning to purchase an additional 200 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine, marking a stepped-up effort to vaccinate the vast majority of Americans this year.

Federal officials negotiating for the new supply expect to receive 100 million doses each from Moderna and Pfizer, in deals set to boost the nation’s total vaccine capacity to 600 million.

That would give the U.S. the ability to vaccinate up to 300 million Americans, senior administration officials said, though they cautioned that it is unlikely the companies will deliver on the new shots until sometime this summer.

The White House in the interim is boosting the amount of existing vaccine that it sends to states and other jurisdictions each week, as it tries to temper rising complaints of supply shortages across the nation.

President Joe Biden is expected to announce the changes Tuesday afternoon.

The administration will ship out at least 10 million doses a week under the new strategy, a roughly 16 percent increase that will be spread across all 50 states and a handful of territories.

The additional supply will last for at least three weeks, senior administration officials said Tuesday.

“It is a critical step to get much needed vaccine on the ground and get millions of Americans vaccinated soon,” a senior administration official said.

Biden officials also committed to giving states estimates of how much vaccine they will receive at least three weeks in advance. The move comes after states complained they need more advance notice to plan for everything from mass vaccination sites to smaller clinics.

The ramp up in allocations comes as the Biden administration’s Covid response team has struggled to get a handle on how much vaccine is available nationwide, as well as account for discrepancies between states and the federal government over how many doses are sitting idle.

More than 41 million shots have been distributed so far, nearly half of which have yet to be administered, according to Centers for Disease Control data.

Yet several states complained in recent weeks that they are running dangerously low on supply, with some going as far as to redirect unused doses from nursing homes to providers serving other priority groups.

“There’s a reporting lag, and they don’t know where the vaccine is,” said Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, adding that the confusion has contributed to a “hoarding mentality” in the areas where doses are available.

A senior Biden administration official on Tuesday insisted the government is keeping only minimal amounts of vaccine in reserve, and that the vast majority of the unused doses have already been distributed.

The administration is hoping that adding an additional 200 million doses will alleviate those supply issues over the long term, though it remains unclear when agreements with the manufacturers will be finalized.

The federal government already holds pre-existing options to purchase more vaccine from both Moderna and Pfizer.

Biden on Monday predicted that anyone who wants a vaccine will be able to get one by the spring, even as some of his top aides have warned it could take well into the late summer or fall before the U.S. is close to reaching the herd immunity needed to effectively end the pandemic.

Many states have dramatically expanded groups eligible for the shots in order to speed up immunizations. Public health experts have expressed concern about the likelihood that minority communities will have far lower vaccination rates.

The CDC may come out with demographic data on vaccinations as soon as next week, according to a source in communication with the agency.

Moderna and Pfizer have pledged a total of 200 million doses of their Covid shots by the end of March, with another 200 million available over the three months after that. But Pfizer is now counting overfill in each of its vaccine vials as an extra full dose toward its vaccine commitment to the U.S. pandemic response — even though not all the syringes the federal government supplies can eke out the extra dose.

The White House is betting heavily on the eventual arrival of a third vaccine from Johnson & Johnson that requires only a single shot compared with the two-dose regimen for Moderna and Pfizer.

Johnson & Johnson is expected to report trial data on its vaccine as soon as next week, but earlier this month warned officials it had fallen behind its production schedule and likely would not catch up until the end of April.

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