Biden: US will have vaccines much faster

The U.S. should have enough COVID-19 vaccine by the end of May to inoculate every American adult. The Biden administration also warned against relaxing restrictions too early, as many states are doing. Meanwhile, pharmaceutical competitors will team up to produce vaccine.


National News

March 3, 2021 - 9:40 AM

President Joe Biden speaks in the State Dining Room of the White House on March 2, 2021, in Washington, D.C. Biden spoke about the recently announced partnership between Johnson & Johnson and Merck to produce more J&J COVID-19 vaccine. Photo by (Doug Mills/Pool/Getty Images/TNS)

WASHINGTON (TNS) — President Joe Biden said Tuesday that the United States would have enough COVID-19 vaccines by the end of May to inoculate every American adult, two months earlier than previously expected.

The announcement came as administration officials warned that the decline in coronavirus cases appears to be stalling, setting up a sprint to get most Americans vaccinated against the deadly disease while it continues to batter communities around the country.

“There is light at the end of the tunnel,” Biden said at the White House, two days after a third vaccine was approved by federal regulators. “But we cannot let our guard down or assume that victory is inevitable.”

Yet some states are doing just that, underscoring the challenge to the administration. Before Biden spoke, the governor of Texas, the nation’s second-largest state after California, announced that he was lifting anti-coronavirus restrictions in the state of nearly 30 million. Mississippi did the same.

Although Biden previously has said vaccines are not required to open schools, he emphasized that the increased vaccine supply would help them reopen faster by allowing states to prioritize inoculating teachers and other staff. He said every teacher and child care worker should receive at least one shot by the end of the month.

“This is a national imperative that we get our kids back into the classroom safely and as soon as possible,” he said.

The faster vaccination timetable is partly the result of a new agreement between Johnson & Johnson, whose vaccine was authorized for inoculations over the weekend, and Merck, which also will produce that vaccine in an unusual partnership between the two pharmaceutical competitors.

“This is the type of collaboration between companies that we saw during World War II,” said Biden, who has often likened the fight against the pandemic to a wartime effort.

Biden said Johnson & Johnson manufacturing plants would operate around the clock, and that he would invoke the Defense Production Act to ensure Merck was able to retrofit its facilities to produce the vaccine. He praised both companies for being “good corporate citizens.”

The increased supply of vaccines is providing a political boost for Biden as well as resources to tackle public health challenges. He’s been facing criticism from Republicans for failing to push harder to reopen schools, but some teacher unions have resisted demands to return to the classroom because of safety concerns.

Biden said teachers, school staff and child care workers will be able to start signing up to receive vaccines at pharmacies starting next week. “Let’s treat in-person learning like the essential service that it is,” he said.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, welcomed the announcement. “What a tremendous relief to have a president who is meeting this moment of crisis,” she said. “Vaccinations are a key ingredient to reopening schools safely.”

The news comes as Americans already were starting to feel considerably more optimistic about the prospects for ending the pandemic. The Republican polling and political strategy firm Echelon Insights found that the share of Americans who think the “worst is yet to come” had fallen from 48% in January to 28% in its most recent survey. The share who said the “worst is behind us” had risen to 36%, from 26% in January.

The share of Americans saying they intend to get vaccinated has increased in several recent polls, especially among Black Americans, who have been more hesitant. About a third of Republicans, however, continue to say they probably or definitely will not get vaccinated, reflecting the politicization of the pandemic under former President Donald Trump.

The accelerated production of vaccines could also allow the United States to start exporting supplies sooner than expected, something it has pledged to do once there were enough for all Americans. International leaders and public health organizations have criticized rich nations for hoarding doses while poor nations struggle to obtain vaccinations.