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Biden says U.S. will have enough coronavirus vaccine doses for every adult by end of May

The administration has been working to increase the supply and distribution of the three authorized vaccines.
Image: Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccin
An employee of McKesson Corp. places the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine into a transport container in Shepherdsville, Ky., on Monday.Timothy D. Easley / Pool via AFP - Getty Images

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said Tuesday the United States will have enough vaccines for every adult by the end of May, two months earlier than the administration had previously estimated.

He said the U.S. was able to speed up the timeline under a deal with Johnson & Johnson to accelerate production of its single-dose vaccine, including an agreement in which Merck will assist Johnson & Johnson with its production, and use of the Defense Production Act to secure necessary equipment and materials.

Biden also said that the federal government will be working to make sure every teacher is able to get the first dose of the vaccination this month. Starting this week, he said, teachers will be able to schedule an appointment at a local pharmacy for a vaccination, though he did not provide details as to how they might be able to schedule those sessions.

"Our goal is to do everything we can to help every educator receive a shot this month, the month of March," Biden said.

The deal between the two major pharmaceutical companies, first reported by The Washington Post, was brokered by the Biden administration after officials found out that Johnson & Johnson had fallen behind in the production of its vaccine.

The partnership will involve two Merck facilities, one of which will produce the vaccine while the other carries out the last phase of the manufacturing process, an administration official said. Biden said the administration was using the Defense Production Act to help Merck equip its facilities to make the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

"This is the type of collaboration between companies we saw in World War II," Biden said.

Merck had attempted to produce its own vaccine, but announced in late January that it was discontinuing the development of its two candidates after early clinical trial data showed an "inferior" immune response.

Johnson & Johnson's vaccine plant will be working 24 hours a day, seven days a week producing the vaccine and the Department of Defense will provide the company with logistical support, Biden said.

But even with enough doses for every American, there could still be a bottleneck in actually administering them if there aren't enough vaccinators or sites for individuals to receive the vaccinations, particularly in underserved rural and urban communities. The Biden administration has looked to address that challenge by deploying the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, and military personnel to states and opening federally-run mass vaccination centers.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said vaccinations for teachers are not a requirement for schools to reopen, but some teachers unions have demanded staff be vaccinated before returning to the classrooms.

Biden said he was calling on states to prioritize teachers for vaccination and would be directing retail pharmacies receiving doses directly from the federal government to ensure doses are available for them.

"Vaccinations are a key ingredient to reopening schools safely, and this is the administration taking the steps to ramp up vaccinations for educators, which is great news for everyone who wants in-school learning," American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said in a statement.

Biden spoke earlier in the day by phone to Senate Democrats as they prepared to vote this week on the Covid-19 relief package passed by the House.

The Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use authorization to Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine over the weekend, making it the third vaccine available to the public. The vaccines developed by Moderna and Pfizer are the other two, though those require two separate doses to be administered three to four weeks apart.

Johnson & Johnson shipped out 4 million doses of its vaccine Monday, with 16 million more doses expected by the end of the month. Experts have said it can be a “game changer,” especially because it only requires one dose and can be kept in regular refrigerators, while the other two vaccines require ultracold storage conditions.

More than 15 percent of people in the U.S. have received at least one Covid-19 vaccination dose so far, according to the CDC.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky and other top officials warned Monday that states shouldn’t be loosening their Covid-19 restrictions yet. They said they’re concerned that Covid-19 cases have stopped falling and that loosening rules could lead to another surge.

The federal government will be shipping 15.2 million doses to states this week, up from 14.5 million last week and nearly double the number of doses shipped out prior to Biden's inauguration, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday.