U.S. Plans to Spend Billions to Increase Covid Vaccine Supplies
The White House, under pressure from activists to increase the supply of coronavirus vaccines to poor nations, is prepared to invest billions of dollars to expand U.S. manufacturing capacity, with the goal of producing at least one billion doses a year beginning in the second half of 2022, two top advisers to President Biden said in an interview on Tuesday.
The investment is the first step in a new plan, to be announced on Wednesday, for the government to partner with industry to address immediate vaccine needs overseas and domestically and to prepare for future pandemics, said Dr. David Kessler, who oversees vaccine distribution for the administration, and Jeff Zients, Mr. Biden’s coronavirus response coordinator.
“This is about assuring expanded capacity against Covid variants and also preparing for the next pandemic,” Dr. Kessler said. “The goal, in the case of a future pandemic, a future virus, is to have vaccine capability within six to nine months of identification of that pandemic pathogen, and to have enough vaccines for all Americans.”
The idea for the new public-private partnership is still in its early stages, and the price tag is uncertain. Dr. Kessler, who has been working on the proposal for months, estimated it at “several billion.” The money has been set aside as part of the American Rescue Plan, the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package that Mr. Biden signed into law in March.
The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Agency intends to issue a “request for information” to solicit ideas from companies that have experience manufacturing vaccines using mRNA technology. Mr. Zients said that officials wanted responses “in a very short period of time, 30 days, to understand how most efficiently, effectively and reliably we can increase manufacturing.”
Activists, many of them veterans of the AIDS epidemic, have been demanding for months that Mr. Biden do more to scale up global vaccine manufacturing capacity. Some, furious with what they regard as the administration’s slow progress, turned up at the home of Ron Klain, Mr. Biden’s chief of staff, in September and deposited a fake mountain of bones on the sidewalk in protest.
At the same time, the administration is offering booster shots to millions of vaccinated Americans, despite criticism from World Health Organization officials and other experts who say the doses should go to low- and lower-middle-income countries first. The Food and Drug Administration is aiming to authorize booster doses of Pfizer-BioNTech’s Covid vaccine for all adults as early as Thursday, according to people familiar with the agency’s plans.
Whether the new Biden plan will satisfy the administration’s critics is unclear. Many activists have demanded that the administration build up manufacturing capacity overseas, particularly in Africa, but the Biden plan is focused on building capacity among domestic vaccine makers.
“This effort is specifically aimed at building U.S. domestic capacity,” Dr. Kessler said. “But that capacity is important not only for the U.S. supply, but for global supply.”