Covid-19: US will have enough vaccine for every adult by May, says Biden

Texas to drop mask rule as states seek to relax Coronavirus restrictions

President Joe Biden says the United States will have enough Covid-19 vaccines for every American adult by the end of May, but warns that things may not return to normal until next year. Video: The White House

 

The United States will have enough Covid-19 vaccine for every American adult by the end of May, US president Joe Biden said on Tuesday after Merck & Co agreed to make rival Johnson & Johnson’s inoculation.

The partnership between drug makers, as well as other steps the government is taking to assist J&J, will allow the company to accelerate delivery of 100 million vaccine doses by around a month, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

“One of the things that I learned when I came into office was that Johnson & Johnson was behind in manufacturing and production,” Mr Biden said. “It simply wasn’t coming fast enough. So my team has been hard at work to accelerate that effort.”

He said the US government had invoked the Defense Production Act to help equip two Merck plants to make the J&J vaccine.

Mr Biden also said plants already making J&J’s vaccine would step up their output, producing 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

These actions will ultimately double J&J’s US ability to produce vaccines and increase its fill-finish capacity, where the product is put into vials and readied for shipping, HHS said.

“We expect this manufacturing arrangement will enhance our production capacity so that we can supply beyond our current commitments,” J&J said in a statement.

Mr Biden said he hoped that the United States would be “back to normal” at this time next year, potentially earlier.

“It depends upon if people continue, continue to be smart and understand that we still can have significant losses,” he said.

Merck chief marketing officer Mike Nally said that his company was waiting on specialised equipment to begin producing the vaccine, but that the plant where it will finish J&J’s vaccine and put it into vials could be operating within a few months.

“That production capacity won’t yield doses most likely until the second half of this year, towards the end of the year,” Mr Nally said in an interview, explaining that there is a longer lead time for the equipment needed to make the drug substance.

Under its contract, J&J was supposed to deliver 12 million doses by the end of February, but had less than 4 million ready to ship when the vaccine was authorized on Saturday.

It expects to be able to deliver another 16 million doses by the end of this month – still well short of its previous commitments – but will not ship any next week. The next shipments are waiting on regulatory approval of new manufacturing operations run by its partner, contract drugmaker Catalent Inc.

Meanwhile, Texas has said it will lift its mask requirement and would allow businesses to fully reopen.

The move by the state, with its 29 million residents, goes further than similar actions in other states and cities that are rushing to ease as many limits as they can.

“It is now time to open Texas 100 per cent,” governor Greg Abbott said, adding that “Covid has not suddenly disappeared,” but state mandates are no longer needed.

Governors and mayors across the US are calibrating what is feasible, what is safe and what is politically practical.

In Chicago, tens of thousands of children returned to public school this week, while snow-covered parks and playgrounds around the city that had been shuttered since last March were opened.

Mississippi ended its mask mandate, too. Restaurants in Massachusetts were allowed to operate without capacity limits, and South Carolina erased its limits on large gatherings. San Francisco announced that indoor dining, museums, movie theaters and gyms could reopen on a limited basis.

But federal health officials have worried that state and local leaders may be moving too fast. “I know people are tired; they want to get back to life, to normal,” Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. “But we’re not there yet.” – Agencies