President Biden said that the United States will have enough vaccine supply to vaccinate all American adults for the coronavirus by the end of May, crediting a “stepped-up process” under his administration.
Biden made the announcement while outlining a partnership between Merck and Johnson & Johnson to produce the latter’s single-dose coronavirus vaccine.
“We’re now on track to have enough vaccine supply for every adult in America by the end of May,” Biden said in remarks Tuesday afternoon at the White House. “When we came into office, the prior administration had contracted for not nearly enough vaccine to cover adults in America. We rectified that.”
The new timeline is more condensed than Biden’s previous prediction that the U.S. would have enough vaccines for all American adults — 600 million doses — by the end of July.
Biden stressed that Tuesday’s developments marked a significant milestone in the fight against the virus, but he cautioned that more work needs to be done in order to distribute the vaccine and inoculate much of the U.S. population.
He highlighted his administration’s efforts to boost the number of vaccinators and locations where Americans can receive doses.
“That is progress, important progress,” Biden said. “But it’s not enough to have the vaccine supply.”
It could take much longer for the country to vaccinate the adult population, given the logistical hurdles of distributing and administering vaccines. Americans in states and cities, including Washington, D.C., have encountered challenges in signing up for appointments online. The Biden administration is also trying to address vaccine hesitancy by communicating that the vaccines are safe and effective in order to ensure that as much of the population as possible gets vaccinated.
He also reiterated calls for Congress to swiftly pass his $1.9 trillion relief proposal.
To increase the number of vaccinations in circulation, Biden detailed Merck’s collaboration to expand production of the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine approved by the Food and Drug Administration over the weekend. Biden said he has invoked the Defense Production Act to equip Merck facilities to safely manufacture the vaccine, and Johnson & Johnson plans to operate its facilities 24 hours a day, seven days a week in order to increase supply.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is the third to be authorized for emergency use in the U.S.; vaccines produced by Pfizer and BioNTech and by Moderna were approved during the Trump administration. Biden and other officials have repeatedly accused the Trump administration of not having a sufficient plan for distributing vaccines across the country.
The announcement Tuesday of the new timeline is a bright spot in the country’s yearlong fight against the virus. While cases and deaths remain high, they have come down from their peaks following the 2020 holiday season.
Last week, Biden marked the milestone of the 50 millionth dose of coronavirus vaccine being administered. The White House said earlier Tuesday that the weekly supply of doses to states would increase to 18 million this week.
Still, new variants of the coronavirus remain a cause for concern, and more than 500,000 people in the U.S. have died from the virus.
Biden urged Americans to remain vigilant by continuing to wash their hands, keep their distance from others and wear masks. His remarks came as governors in Texas and Mississippi lifted mask mandates and other restrictions, allowing businesses to fully reopen. Biden did not mention those states on Tuesday but emphasized his call for Americans to wear masks for the first 100 days of his presidency.
“Things may get worse again as new variants spread and as we face setbacks like recent winter storms in the Midwest and South. But our administration will never take this public health threat lightly,” Biden said. “Now is not the time to let our guard down. People’s lives are at stake.”
Asked at the conclusion of the event when the U.S. would get back to normal, Biden told reporters he had been cautioned not to give an answer due to uncertainty but said he hoped it would be within a year.
“My hope is by this time next year we are going to be back to normal or before that,” Biden said.
Biden: He called on all states to vaccinate teachers by the end of March
President Biden said he is calling on all states to prioritize teachers for COVID-19 vaccinations so that all teachers and school staff will have received at least one dose by the end of March.
“My challenge to all states, territories, and the District of Columbia is this: We want every educator, school staff member, child care worker to receive at least one shot by the end of the month of March,” Biden said.
He noted that more than 30 states have already prioritized teachers for vaccinations, but said he is using the “full authority of the federal government” in “directing every state to do the same.”
The politics: Biden has been under intense criticism from Republicans for not doing enough to urge schools to reopen, given evidence that they can do so safely with precautions like mask-wearing and distancing.
In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in guidance last month that teacher vaccinations “should not be considered a condition” for reopening schools.
Biden acknowledged this, but pointed to “anxieties” among teachers and parents.
Brazil on Tuesday registered the highest daily number of Covid deaths since the pandemic started.
The health ministry said 1,641 people had died with Covid in the previous 24 hours.
The record was reached as scientists said that a new variant first found in Brazil appears more contagious.
Brazil, where more than a quarter of a million people have died with Covid, has the second highest coronavirus death toll after the United States.
What’s the situation in Brazil?
Across the country, there have been more than 10.5 million confirmed cases of coronavirus. Only the US and India have registered more.
The pandemic spread quickly after first arriving in Brazil and reached a first peak at the end of July, when daily new cases were above 70,000 and daily deaths above 1,500.
Cases and deaths across Brazil fell until early November before a second wave saw cases rise again, a rise which appears to have further accelerated since January.
What’s behind the new spike?
Researchers from the University of São Paulo working with their colleagues at Imperial College London and Oxford University think that the second wave may be linked to the emergence of a new variant of coronavirus which has been traced to the city of Manaus.
Manaus, in the Amazon region, was one of the hardest hit cities in the first wave of the pandemic.
It was expected that the people infected in the first wave would have acquired some degree of protection or immunity. And yet, the city has seen a second wave of infections.
The researchers think this may be because a new variant has emerged which may be evading immunity provided by past infections.
What’s known about the new variant?
The new variant, named P.1, was first detected in people who had travelled from Manaus to Japan in January.
The researchers studying it think it first emerged in Manaus in early November and has been spreading there quickly since.
They say that that genomic sequencing found that this second wave in Manaus “was associated with the emergence and rapid spread” of the P.1 variant.
Their data – which is still preliminary – suggests that the P.1 variant could be up to twice as transmittable as the original version of the virus.
It also suggests that the new variant could evade immunity built up by having had the original version of Covid.
They put the chance of reinfection at between 25% and 60%.
What about vaccines?
Brazil, the worst-affected country by Covid in Latin America, has lagged behind in its roll-out of Covid vaccines.
A nurse in São Paulo became the first person to be vaccinated on 17 January, three weeks after Chile, Mexico and Costa Rica had already started their vaccination campaigns.
Vaccinating its population of 211 million living across a huge territory was always going to be a challenge, but delays in the delivery of the vaccine and the lack of a co-ordinated nationwide approach produced further slowdowns.
Frustrated state governors announced on Tuesday that they would join forces to buy vaccines directly from manufacturers rather than wait for the federal government to deliver them.
They have criticised President Jair Bolsonaro, who has belittled the risks posed by the virus from the start of the pandemic, for not securing adequate vaccine supplies.
The governor of São Paulo state, João Doria, has been particularly scathing of President Bolsonaro’s handling of the pandemic.
March 3 (GMT)