WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden announced plans Wednesday to purchase an additional 100 million doses of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine, giving the U.S. more than enough supply to vaccinate the entire U.S. population.
"I am doing this because, in this wartime effort, we need maximum flexibility. There's always a chance that we'll encounter unexpected challenges or there will be a new need for vaccine effort," Biden said during a meeting with executives from pharmaceutical companies J&J and Merck.
"A lot can happen, a lot can change, and we need to be prepared."
Biden said this month that the U.S. was on track to have enough vaccine doses for every adult in the country to get vaccinated by the end of May after the Food and Drug Administration gave clearance for use of the J&J vaccine. White House senior adviser on Covid response Andy Slavitt said it was too early to say when the additional doses would become available.
"This order allows for the president to plan for the future and the latter part of the year," said Slavitt. "This is wartime, and as facts still emerge it gives us maximum flexibility for our upcoming needs."
The U.S. had already secured deals for enough vaccine doses for every adult even without the addition of the J&J vaccine as of last month when the U.S. finalized a deal with Pfizer and Moderna for 200 million more coronavirus vaccine doses by the end of July. But having the agreement in place with J&J for an additional 100 million doses could help serve as a backstop should Pfizer or Moderna run into manufacturing issues.
Biden said that if the U.S. ends up with a surplus of vaccine, he would "share it with the rest of the world."
"This is not something that can be stopped by a fence," he said. "We will ultimately not be safe until the world is safe."
The White House announced this month that Johnson & Johnson would be working with rival drugmaker Merck & Co. to accelerate production of its single-dose vaccine.
Biden called the partnership a "historic, nearly unprecedented collaboration" and thanked the CEOs for their efforts at Wednesday's meeting.
In the U.S., 91 million Americans have received at least one dose of a vaccine, while 32 million people and 60 percent of those over 65 are fully vaccinated, Slavitt said. The country is administering an average of 2 million shots a day, and on Saturday, nearly 3 million people got the shot, he said.
New cases have continued to decline in recent days after they appeared to plateau last week, with the U.S. averaging 56,000 cases and 1,600 deaths a day, said Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky. Still, she urged the public to continue following mask and social distancing guidelines for "just a little while longer."
"We are at a critical point in this pandemic and on the cusp of having enough vaccines to protect every adult in the United States," Walensky said. "We ask for your patience in practicing proven prevention measures for just a little while longer."