With the effort to vaccinate the country running up against capacity constraints, the Biden administration is searching for ways to boost the country’s ability to produce and deliver large quantities of the two COVID-19 vaccines currently on the market.
It’s a strategy that both focuses on using the might of the federal government to bring the pandemic to an end and one that marks a very self-conscious departure from the Trump administration’s approach, which largely left the pandemic to the states to address.
Wednesday marked the first press call of President Biden’s COVID-19 task force, heralded with the intention of providing the public with regular, reliable updates on the pandemic. Biden himself did not attend, another pointed departure from President Trump’s practice of taking center stage at the briefings that his administration ran.
Throughout the call, officials emphasized the role that the federal government is taking in addressing the pandemic, while also running through updates on the domestic spread of the virus.
Andy Slavitt, a White House senior advisor for the COVID response, described it as a “national strategy” that would involve “the most aggressive actions possible to stem the pandemic and follow the science.”
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said that government estimates suggest that between 479,000 to 514,000 Americans will have died of COVID-19 by Feb. 20.
“If we are united in action, we can turn things around,” she said.
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Tony Fauci provided an overview of various treatments that have been shown to be effective against COVID-19. Measured and scientific as it was, those remarks came in the context of Fauci spending the past few days describing his horror at seeing President Trump advertise hydroxychloroquine and other ineffective treatments like sunlight and injected disinfectant.
Throughout the press conference, Biden COVID response officials focused on the need to push against barriers to increasing supply.
At one point, Slavitt said that a proposal to use the Defense Production Act to force pharmaceutical firms to produce doses of the two mRNA vaccines that have received emergency authorization is under “active exploration.”
“These are delicate processes, very sterile processes, and have to be done in a way that actually completely works,” Slavitt said.
The feds are planning to buy 600 million doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines – enough to vaccinate 300 million Americans, or all adults in the country, Slavitt said.
The last doses, however, will become available at the end of the summer, in part due to constraints on the supply of raw materials like lipids and limits on the capacity of the vaccine-makers.
Slavitt added that the administration would need new funding from Congress to vaccinate the entire country, saying that the $8.75 billion passed last month would only allow the administration to meet its goal of 100 million vaccinated in 100 days.
Money from Congress would also cover the purchase of more PPE, of which there are ongoing shortages, and for testing to expand around the country.
Correction: This post has been corrected to reflect that Dr. Fauci is director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.