Biden administration seeks to buy 200 million more vaccine doses, to be delivered through the summer

Because both products — one developed by Pfizer and German company BioNTech and the other by Moderna — are two-dose regimens, that would be enough to fully vaccinate 300 million people. An estimated 260 million people in the United States are currently considered eligible to receive a coronavirus vaccine, though Pfizer and Moderna have initiated trials for children as young as 12, the results of which could expand the pool.

The additional supply would greatly boost President Biden’s chances of returning the nation to some semblance of normalcy by late summer or the fall. He said Monday he expects the general public to gain access to shots by the spring — as he seemed to elevate his administration’s goal from 1 million vaccinations a day to 1.5 million — though aides on Tuesday said that was aspirational.

“Every American is not going to be eligible this spring,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.

A senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the strategy, said the additional doses would be delivered this summer. Pfizer and Moderna did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the administration’s efforts to purchase additional doses.

Each company has already agreed to deliver 200 million doses to the federal government by the end of June. Pfizer has said it can deliver 120 million of those doses by the end of March, while Moderna has pledged 100 million by then.

Manufacturing has steadily ramped up, in pace with those targets. As a result, federal allocations to states and other jurisdictions will increase by about 16 percent next week, easing shortages that have intensified nationwide without immediately alleviating supply problems.

Jeff Zients, coordinator of the White House’s coronavirus response, informed governors of the increase on a call Tuesday afternoon, according to people familiar with his comments who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.

The weekly allocation is forecast to go from about 8.6 million doses to about 10 million doses. The vaccine is distributed on a population basis among 64 jurisdictions, including 50 states, eight territories and six major cities.

Senior administration officials said the increased supply will come mostly from releasing more doses of Moderna’s vaccine. The stepped-up allocations will remain for three weeks, these officials said, as the Department of Health and Human Services provides estimates on that time scale going forward.

The increased allocations and the promise of better forecasts came as welcome news to state and local officials, who have implored the federal government for estimates of available supply so they can plan and set expectations for the public. Such projections were not possible in December, according to current and former federal officials, because of uncertainty about manufacturing and instability in the supply chain. The government has gained greater understanding of production schedules, especially after directing suppliers to fulfill Pfizer’s needs under the Defense Production Act.

Shortages are having stark consequences throughout the country. Vaccine appointments have been canceled as health officers and medical providers confront a sharply limited supply of doses, which are being targeted at medical workers, older people, some front-line workers and other highly vulnerable people. The patchwork of rules about eligibility has deepened confusion about access to the shots.

There could soon be a bright spot in the form of a third vaccine, though its efficacy is not publicly known. Health officials are awaiting data from a trial by Johnson & Johnson, which will probably arrive in the next week. That data may also suggest how a vaccine performs against one of the variants spreading throughout the world, because some of the trial was conducted in South Africa, where a more transmissible variant has been identified.

The effort to buy additional doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines represents a shift in strategy, as the Biden administration doubles down on two highly effective products authorized by federal regulators. The Trump administration worked to spread its risks widely over many different candidates.

Once the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines late last year showed such high efficacy — about 95 percent — some government vaccine experts argued the administration should quickly acquire as much of those vaccines as possible, even if the result was that the United States ended up with more vaccine than it needed.

At the same time, Biden and his top aides have stressed that vaccine supply is only one aspect of the challenges involved in executing the immunization campaign. The administration is seeking additional resources for state and local health departments and has vowed greater federal coordination of the efforts, including plans to augment the public health workforce and set up mass vaccination sites.

The Biden administration has said a key metric in its first 100 days will be administering 100 million coronavirus vaccine shots. (The Washington Post)

The administration has also pledged to increase transparency for state and local officials overseeing ground-level planning and for members of the public waiting to be vaccinated.

Biden administration officials are also seeking to have more data related to vaccination efforts posted on the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to a federal health official. Ideally, that would include data about manufacturing, supply and allocation to the states. Information about production and supply is not currently publicly available.

The vaccine rollout has been marked by a lack of transparency about stockpiles, short-term rollout schedules and contradictory statements from government officials. Companies producing vaccines have issued broad statements about vaccine goals, based on quarterly projections.

In Pfizer’s case, production estimates were recently accelerated by the Food and Drug Administration’s recognition of a sixth dose in each vial, which previously had been considered to be “over fill’’ beyond the initial five-dose capacity. The change resulted in an instant 20 percent increase in Pfizer’s quota.

The companies said they have been giving more detailed information about vaccine availability to the government, which then relays the information about weekly shipment expectations to state officials.

But the lack of accurate and consistent information has been a major complaint at the state level, as the initial shipments of vaccine have not matched the volume of vaccines local systems are demanding.

The Biden administration appeared to put pressure over the weekend on Pfizer and Moderna to improve the flow of information about vaccine manufacturing and supply that is relayed to the government. Biden’s director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Rochelle Walensky, said on “Fox News Sunday,’’ “I can’t tell you how much vaccine we have, and if I can’t tell it to you then I can’t tell it to the governors and I can’t tell it to the state health officials.’’

Asked to respond to Walensky’s concerns this week, Moderna and Pfizer said they have been reporting on a daily and weekly basis the amount of vaccine that will be ready.

“We have and are continuing to work closely with the U.S. government on our production, release and shipping schedules — to ensure Americans receive their first and second doses of the vaccine on time,’’ Pfizer said in a statement this week. “We have provided them with a specific schedule, and we foresee no issues in delivering on the commitments we have made.”

Moderna’s spokesman, Ray Jordan, said Monday the U.S. government is in charge of relaying fine-grained information to states.

“The US Government is our customer, and they are free to communicate as they wish,” he said.

A former Trump administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to address sensitive matters, said Moderna has been more forthcoming about its vaccine production than Pfizer.

“With Moderna, we always had a pretty clear sense of what was further ahead, and any potential issues, a better ability to accurately predict what was coming,” the official said. “With Pfizer, we didn’t have as much insight. It was a byproduct of their unwillingness to work as collaboratively with Warp Speed as other companies.”

Pfizer did not respond to a request to address the criticism.

Along with other vaccine manufacturers, Pfizer signed an advanced purchase contract with the Trump administration. But Pfizer did not accept research and development money or backing for clinical trials from the government.

Pfizer also opted to distribute its vaccine to states on its own, following the federal government’s allocation guidance, rather than permit its vaccine to be shipped by national wholesaler McKesson, the government’s designated distributor for vaccine and supplies.

Moderna this month raised its global target for the year from 500 million doses to 600 million. Pfizer and BioNTech recently raised their target from 1.3 billion doses to 2 billion doses. Much of that supply is set to go to other countries.

Pfizer already has delayed or reduced shipments to Canada and Europe as it retools a factory in Belgium, frustrating foreign governments. But chief executive Albert Bourla said during a Bloomberg News event Tuesday morning that the company would be able to supply the United States with 200 million doses two months earlier than expected because of a labeling change that allows medical providers to squeeze an extra dose out of each vial.

Amy Goldstein and Lena H. Sun contributed to this report.

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