PORTAGE, Mich. (Reuters) - U.S. President Joe Biden on Friday secured a commitment from Pfizer Inc to double the COVID-19 vaccine it churns out in the coming weeks, putting his goal to fill the country’s inoculation stockpile by summer in sight.
The drugmaker’s chief executive, Albert Bourla, used a visit by the U.S. president to the company’s largest manufacturing facility to announce that he expects to more than double the around 5 million doses per week the company currently provides to the U.S. government.
The Biden administration is trying to accelerate an unprecedented campaign to vaccinate most American adults as local governments clamor for more doses and the virus kills thousands of Americans every day.
Biden on Friday said he was confident he would be able to surpass his goal to distribute 100 million COVID-19 shots during his first 100 days in office. But he also said that any semblance of normalcy may still many months away.
“We’re now on track to have enough vaccine supply for all Americans by the end of July. That doesn’t mean it’ll be in all Americans’ arms, but enough vaccine will be available,” Biden said in a warehouse filled with hundreds of ultra-cold freezers each holding 360,000 vaccine doses.
“I can’t give you a date when this crisis will end,” Biden said. But I can tell you: We’re doing everything possible to have that day come sooner rather than later.”
Less than 15% of the U.S. population has been vaccinated against the highly contagious illness that has claimed nearly 500,000 lives in the United States.
Bourla said it is possible to increase supply because of improvements in the manufacturing processes at the plant, better lab testing methods and Biden’s use of powers under the Defense Production Act to speed up manufacturing.
During the visit to the Michigan plant, Biden challenged the company to deliver even earlier the 300 million doses of the vaccine it has agreed to supply by the end of July, and the company is looking for ways to speed production, Bourla said.
To that end, Pfizer said that by the end of the year it will add manufacturing capacity in Michigan, raw material production capacity both in Michigan and Connecticut, and add production lines to put vaccine into vials in Kansas. It has also engaged two U.S. contract manufacturers to help produce the shots.
Biden also stressed vaccine production standards during the tour, as he encouraged Americans to get vaccinated. “I just toured where it is being made,” he said. “It takes more time to do the check for safety than make that vaccine. That is how fastidious they are.”
Pfizer has said it will provide the U.S. government with 100 million doses by the end of March and 100 million more by the end of May. The company has already provided 40 million doses to the U.S. government, as of Feb. 17, Bourla said.
Pfizer is one of the largest employers in the Kalamazoo County area Biden visited. Heavily industrialized Michigan was key to Biden’s 2020 election victory over former President Donald Trump.
The U.S. drugmaker has not yet met all of its global commitments on vaccine supply. As of Wednesday, it had not yet delivered to the European Union about 10 million COVID-19 vaccine doses that were due in December, EU officials told Reuters.
Pfizer developed the two-dose vaccine with Germany’s BioNTech SE.
Moderna Inc, which is also producing COVID-19 vaccine domestically, has agreed to supply the United States with 300 million doses of its own similar two-shot vaccine by the end of July.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden’s top medical adviser, said on Tuesday that demand still far outpaces supply at the moment.
Jeff Williams, mayor of Arlington, Texas, who met with Biden and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen in recent weeks, said his city of 400,000 was ready to vaccinate 40,000 people a day but only had enough supply to administer 3,000 doses.
Reporting by Alexandra Alper in Portage, Michigan, Michael Erman in Maplewood, N.J., Andrea Shalal in Washington; Writing by Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Peter Cooney, Bill Berkrot and Grant McCool
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