President Biden on Tuesday said that the US will now have enough COVID-19 vaccines for every adult “by the end of May” — and that the feds will start a special program in March to vaccinate more teachers.
The ambitious timeline — less than three months away — comes days after US health regulators approved a third vaccine, developed by Johnson & Johnson, which requires a single shot rather than two.
The White House announced Tuesday that it will use the Defense Production Act to help finance a partnership between pharma companies Merck and Johnson & Johnson to more quickly produce the latter’s vaccine.
“We’re now on track to have enough vaccine supply for every adult in America by the end of May,” Biden said at the White House, noting that he had previously said the end of July.
“I’m pleased to announce today as a consequence of the stepped up process that I’ve ordered and just outlined, this country will have enough vaccine supply, I’ll say it again, for every adult in America by the end of May.”
Meanwhile, Biden announced the new teacher vaccination initiative, which will see the federal pharmacy vaccination program prioritize educators and childcare workers.
The announcement comes after the White House for weeks was on the defensive about the president not using his bully pulpit to cajole reluctant teachers unions to get educators back in classrooms. Research indicates relatively low spread of the virus within schools, particularly with younger children.
“Right now, an entire generation of young people is on the brink of being set back a year more in their learning. You can ask millions of parents, they understand,” Biden said at the White House. “This is a national imperative that we get our kids back into the classroom safely and as soon as possible.”
To facilitate teacher vaccinations, “Starting next week and for a month, the month of March, we’ll be using our federal pharmacy program to prioritize the vaccination of pre-K-12 educators and staff and childcare workers throughout March. They will be able to sign up for an appointment at a pharmacy near them,” Biden said.
“I want to be very clear. Not every educator will be able to get through appointment in the first week, but our … goal is to do everything we can to help every educator receive a shot this month, the month of March.”
More than 15 percent of the US population — and more than 20 percent of the adult population — has received at least one vaccine dose, according to the CDC.
US states began vaccinating vulnerable adults in mid-December following a lengthy review period by the Food and Drug Administration of a two-dose vaccine produced by Pfizer and BioNTech that was about 95 percent effective in trials. The FDA quickly approved a second two-dose vaccine produced by Moderna.
The Johnson & Johnson shot was found to be 66 percent effective overall in preventing moderate to severe illness 28 days after vaccination, and 85 percent effective in preventing severe disease.
But it only requires a single shot and can be stored at higher temperatures, and health experts have cautioned against comparing trials run separately and different points in the pandemic.