HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: Moves to Boost Vaccines Won’t Sate Demand

The Biden administration’s move yesterday to boost the supply of Covid-19 vaccines in coming weeks amounts to opening the faucet a little wider: Even with the extra flow, demand for the shots will still swamp supply for months unless the U.S. can open another spigot.

President Joe Biden said the U.S. would ship at least 10 million doses for the next three weeks, a 16% increase over the current level. That pace means tens of millions of Americans who are now eligible for the shot — those 65 and older in many states — will still have to wait.

Biden also announced plans to increase the country’s longer term supply of the vaccines. The administration said it is “working to” purchase 200 million more doses, 100 million each from Pfizer and Moderna, for delivery over the summer. That will bring the total U.S. supply of the two-dose vaccines to 600 million shots, enough to vaccinate 300 million Americans by summer’s end, the administration said.

The new purchases are being made under options from the federal government’s existing contracts with the companies and will be paid for with funds Congress previously allocated, according to a person familiar with the situation.

Yet even with the added supply, the number of Americans who are vaccinated in the months ahead may ultimately be determined by the number of doses provided by drugmakers.

Pfizer Chief Executive Officer Albert Bourla said in an interview yesterday that the company will be able to supply the U.S. with 200 million Covid-19 vaccine doses by the end of May, two months sooner than previously expected. That’s because of a change in the vaccine’s label that allows health-care providers to extract an additional dose from each vial.

Moderna says it remains on track to deliver 100 million doses to the U.S. by the end of March and 200 million doses by the end of June. It reports that 30.4 million doses have been supplied to the U.S. to date.

Still, the best chance for a dramatic increase in supply may come in the weeks ahead, as Johnson & Johnson prepares to ask U.S. regulators to clear its experimental Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use. Read more from John Tozzi, Riley Griffin and Josh Wingrove.

  • Earlier yesterday, Biden’s team lowered expectations for widespread U.S. access to a coronavirus vaccine within weeks, after he predicted that any American who wanted a shot would soon be able to get one. “Everybody won’t be eligible this spring,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said at a press briefing. Asked Monday how soon any American who wants the vaccine to get a shot, Biden responded: “I think it’ll be this spring.” Read more from Josh Wingrove and Jordan Fabian.
  • A greater share of the American public wants to get a Covid-19 vaccine as soon as possible compared with those surveyed in December, a new poll found. Almost half of 1,563 adults surveyed expressed enthusiasm for getting the vaccine, up from 34% last month, according to a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation. The share increased among Black, Hispanic and White adults. The Kaiser poll correlated enthusiasm for getting vaccinated with whether the respondent knows someone who has already received a dose. Read more from Jill R. Shah.

Happening on the Hill

House Panel Plans Vaccine Oversight Hearing: The House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee plans a Feb. 2 hearing featuring state health officials discussing the challenges of Covid-19 vaccine distribution and administration, and what Congress can do to help the effort, according to a press release.

Schumer Eyes Advancing Democrat-Only Stimulus: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he’s ready to start moving on a Democrat-only pandemic stimulus plan as soon as next week, if Republicans continue to reject Biden’s $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill. “I informed senators to be prepared that a vote on a budget resolution could come as early as next week,” Schumer said at a press briefing. A budget resolution is the first step toward a so-called reconciliation bill. Read more from Laura Litvan and Erik Wasson.

Virginia Lawmakers Seek Mass Vaccinations Site: Virginia Democratic Reps. Don Beyer, Gerry Connolly and Jennifer Wexton sent a letter yesterday to the Federal Emergency Management Agency requesting a mass vaccination site in Northern Virginia. The trio cited the Biden administration’s proposal for 100 community vaccination sites across the U.S. They added that Arlington County specifically is the jurisdiction “with the highest percent of individuals willing to be vaccinated” in the U.S., at 92%. Read the letter here.

Pelosi Announces New Committee Appointments: Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced a number of new committee appointments last night, including these Democratic members for the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis:

  • Chair Jim Clyburn (S.C.)
  • Rep. Maxine Waters (Calif.)
  • Rep. Carolyn Maloney (N.Y.)
  • Rep. Nydia Velázquez (N.Y.)
  • Rep. Bill Foster (Ill.)
  • Rep. Jamie Raskin (Md.)
  • Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (Ill.)

Senators Say Lyme Disease a Public Health Threat: Roughly 476,000 people are diagnosed with and treated for Lyme disease each year in the U.S., nearly 10 times the figure previously reported, according to new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. That data were published at the request of Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Tina Smith (D-Minn.), the lawmakers said, and underscored the need for public health agencies to study the spread of the tick-borne disease. Read the data here.

More on the Pandemic

Cases Drop in Every State Even as Deaths Persist: Not a single U.S. state saw a significant increase in average daily coronavirus cases over the past week, a departure from the winter surge that pushed Covid-19’s spread to new heights. But death tallies, the ultimate indicator of the pandemic’s impact, remain grim and are still climbing in some states. Eleven, including Montana, Arkansas, and Wyoming reported average daily deaths rising over 10%, according to Covid Tracking Project data. Read more from Nic Querolo.

Industry Covid-19 Push Didn’t Cross Over to Other Viruses: Even as drugmakers mounted an unprecedented response to Covid-19 last year, they continued to ignore other viruses that mostly affect developing nations, a report found. The pipeline of potential drugs and vaccines against the new coronavirus went from zero to 63 projects through June of 2020, according to the Access to Medicine Foundation. None was working on 10 of 16 other emerging infectious diseases flagged by the World Health Organization as a risk of pandemic or serious epidemic. Read more from Naomi Kresge.

More Headlines From the U.S.:

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What Else to Know Today

Biden Drops Pursuit of Medicare Proposed Rules: The Biden administration has withdrawn three proposed rules that were advanced by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services during the Trump administration, Tony Pugh reports. The rules dealt with:

  • Conditions for Coverage for End-Stage Renal Disease Facilities—Third Party Payments (RIN: 0938-AT11);
  • Strengthening Oversight of Accrediting Organizations (AO) and Preventing AO Conflict of Interest, and Related Provisions (RIN: 0938-AT84); and
  • Revisions to Medicare Part A Enrollments (RIN: 0938-AU27).

Cancer Research Director Retains Interim Job: The Biden administration has held over the National Cancer Institute Director Ned Sharpless, whom former President Donald Trump appointed in 2017. Sharpless also served as acting FDA commissioner for about six months before Trump nominated Steve Hahn to lead the agency. Hahn stepped down from that role, as expected, on Jan. 20. Jeannie Baumann has more.

Bill Gates Outlines Strategy to Prevent the Next Pandemic: Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates outlined an ambitious plan to stop the next pandemic, calling for a global alert system, massive testing, a cadre of 3,000 “first responders” ready to spring into action and tens of billions of dollars of annual spending. “To prevent the hardship of this last year from happening again, pandemic preparedness must be taken as seriously as we take the threat of war,” Gates wrote in an annual letter today. “The world wasn’t ready for the Covid-19 pandemic. I think next time will be different.”

Bill and Melinda Gates, who oversee the Seattle-based Gates Foundation, set their sights on the next crisis as the globe struggles to slow a pathogen that has infected more than 100 million people. Countries — mainly wealthy ones — are ramping up vaccine delivery in a race to catch up with the virus. Read more from James Paton.

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To contact the reporter on this story: Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Zachary Sherwood at zsherwood@bgov.com; Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com; Michaela Ross at mross@bgov.com

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