March 2, 2021 -- President Joe Biden on Tuesday said the United States will have enough COVID-19 vaccine doses to inoculate every American adult by May.
In an afternoon address, Biden also said:
- That pharma giant Merck will begin producing Johnson & Johnson's recently authorized vaccine 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, a significant step to ramp up vaccine production.
- Every teacher, school employee, and child care worker will be able to get at least the first vaccine shot this month.
“With this increased production of three safe and effective vaccines, we have the opportunity to address the national need more quickly and get our schools open safely,” Biden said.
He said while the number of vaccine doses is increasingly rapidly -- he had earlier promised to have enough supply to vaccinate American adults by July -- the country still needs people to “put the shots in the arms of millions of Americans.”
The president has already met with retired health care workers and asked that they join the effort and Tuesday said he would mobilize other resources including the National Guard.
As for educators, Biden said it was time they were treated like essential workers and given early access to the vaccines.
“We can reopen schools if the right steps are taken even before employees are vaccinated,” he said. “But time and again we have heard form educators and parents about anxiety about that. Let's treat in-person learning like the essential service it is and that means ... get them vaccinated immediately.”
While this represents “a huge step in our effort to beat the pandemic,” Biden also warned that “this fight is far from over. Things may get worse again as new variants spread and as we face setbacks.”
Biden's push to advance the vaccination effort includes the unique Merck-Johnson & Johnson partnership. The FDA granted authorization for the J&J vaccine to be used this past weekend. And while the approval of a third vaccine in the U.S. was welcome, the announcement was tempered by the fact the company said it could only ship 3.9 million doses immediately.
The Washington Post said Merck will dedicate two U.S. facilities toward the J&J vaccine. One facility will make the vaccine and the other will provide “fill-finish” services, in which the vaccine is placed in vials and packaged for distribution.
The J&J vaccine has the advantage of only requiring one shot, plus the vaccine does not need to be stored in extremely cold temperatures, as the two-shot Pfizer and Modera vaccines do.
Merck was trying to come up with its own coronavirus vaccine but discontinued work on Jan. 25, the company said in a news release.
White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients said the company planned to immediately ship 3.9 million doses. The company is scheduled to deliver 16 million doses by the end of March and 100 million doses by July 1.
The CDC says 96.4 million doses of vaccine have been shipped and 76.8 million doses have been administered. About 25.4 million people have received two doses of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines.