President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris
The Biden administration is seeking to buy 200 million additional doses of COVID-19 vaccines and plans to increase the weekly amount that U.S. states, tribes and territories are receiving of the products in an effort to get more shots into Americans' arms.
The U.S. federal government wants to purchase 100 million more doses of Pfizer Inc.'s COVID-19 vaccine and another 100 million from Moderna Inc., which would bring the total number of U.S. doses from those two companies to 600 million.
The administration is seeking to have some of the additional doses delivered sometime in June, with the others coming in July. If all goes according to plan, that would be enough vaccine to fully vaccinate 300 million Americans with the two-dose shots by the end of the summer or early fall, President Joe Biden said Jan. 26 from the White House.
"This is a wartime undertaking. It's not hyperbole," the president said.
The Trump administration signed contracts with Moderna and Pfizer in 2020 to deliver 200 million doses each to the U.S. government, with options for additional purchases of both companies' products — agreements Biden is eyeing to execute.
However, it remains unclear whether Pfizer and Moderna will meet the White House's timeline. Moderna did not respond to questions about Biden's request.
"Pfizer will do its part to help the Biden administration achieve its vaccination goals," spokeswoman Sharon Castillo told S&P Global Market Intelligence. "We share a commitment to get as many Americans as possible vaccinated as quickly as possible."
More doses to states
Starting next week, the Biden administration will also boost the weekly number of doses U.S. states, tribes and territories are receiving — upping it from 8.6 million to a minimum of 10 million, or an increase of about 1.4 million doses.
That increase will allow millions more Americans to get vaccinated sooner than previously anticipated, Biden said.
The administration is also increasing the transparency for jurisdictions by providing them a three-week look ahead of the number of doses they can expect to receive.
"This is something we've heard over and over again from both Democrats and Republicans, state and local leaders that they need a plan in order to know what to plan on," Biden said. "I think we're getting this coordinated in a way that there's increased cooperation and confidence."
Under the Trump administration's process, it was a guessing game from week to week on what to expect on the number of doses jurisdictions would receive, Biden said.
"This is unacceptable," he said. "Lives are at stake here."
"From this week forward, God willing, we will ensure that states, tribes and territories will now always have a reliable three-week forecast with the supply they're going to get so they'll know three weeks at a time what's going to be there in the third week," Biden said.
Having that ability will ensure governors, mayors and local leaders have greater certainty around supply so they can carry out their plans to vaccinate as many people as possible, he said.
'Worse shape' than expected
The Trump administration missed its commitment to have 40 million doses of the vaccines delivered to U.S. jurisdictions and 20 million Americans vaccinated by Dec. 31, 2020. By the end of 2020, only about 13 million doses had been delivered to states, tribes and territories, with about 4 million shots administered, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Trump administration had left the vaccine distribution program in "worse shape than we anticipated," Biden said.
The new president has pledged to get 100 million shots into American arms by the end of his first 100 days in office — aiming for at least 1 million injections of the vaccines per day.
As of Jan. 26, about 44.4 million doses had been delivered to U.S. jurisdictions, with 23.5 million administered — about 3.5 million of which were second shots, the CDC reported.
Vice President Kamala Harris was among the Americans to get a second shot of Moderna's vaccine on Jan. 26 — receiving it at the U.S. National Institutes of Health, which partnered with the company to develop the vaccine. Biden received his second dose of Pfizer's vaccine Jan. 11.
The second doses of Pfizer's and Moderna's vaccines must be given 21 days and 28 days, respectively, after the first shots.
Challenging times remain
Biden acknowledged the U.S. continues to face a challenging time, with deaths in the nation likely to exceed 500,000 by the end of February.
"The brutal truth is, it's going to take months before we can get the majority of Americans vaccinated," the president said. "In the next few months, masks — not vaccines — are the best defense against COVID-19."
Biden also vowed to ensure the vaccines would be equitably allocated. Earlier in the day, the president signed four executive orders aimed at combating racial inequities.
During the White House Jan. 26 daily briefing, Domestic Policy Adviser Susan Rice said there has been a rise in xenophobia and violence against Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders in particular during the pandemic — attacks triggered by some political leaders who blamed those groups for COVID-19.
Acting surgeon general
Also on Jan. 26, the Department of Health and Human Services revealed Susan Orsega has been appointed acting U.S. surgeon general, filling that post until Biden's pick, Vivek Murthy, completes his Senate confirmation process.
Murthy was former President Barack Obama's surgeon general during the second half of his administration and will be stepping back into the role for the Biden administration.
As expected, Biden asked Trump's surgeon general, Jerome Adams, last week to resign.
Orsega is a nurse and a rear admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service's Commissioned Corps, the federal government's nonmilitary uniformed health service. In March 2019, Orsega was appointed the director of the Commissioned Corps headquarters in the surgeon general's office, where she has been responsible for directing all functions related to personnel, operations, readiness, deployment and policy for the nearly 6,100 officers and also oversees development of the Reserve Corps.
Orsega has also been the principal adviser to the surgeon general on activities and policies related to Public Health Service training, deployment and total force fitness.