The schedule for delivery of the additional doses was not immediately clear. The new deals are unlikely to make vaccine widely available much sooner than originally anticipated, but they would prevent a shortfall later in the year. The administration was exercising options built into existing contracts with the two companies, making timing a central question. A Pfizer executive said in a recent interview with USA Today that the company expects to halve its production time, expediting the availability of its product globally.
The purchases increase supply in the United States by 50 percent, bringing the total to 600 million doses. Because both products are two-dose regimens, that would be enough to fully vaccinate 300 million people. An estimated 260 million people in the United States are currently considered eligible to receive a coronavirus vaccine, though trials involving children as young as 12 could widen the pool.
Administration officials have been telling partners that their recent move to expand Pfizer’s priority rating under the Defense Production Act would help the pharmaceutical giant obtain needed equipment to help produce the additional 100 million doses by the end of the second quarter, according to people with knowledge of the discussions. When asked about the action under the Korean War-era law, a Pfizer spokeswoman did not address it directly but said, “Our teams continue to work closely on our production as our commercial ramp-up progresses.”Read:Liver gene helps body keep working smoothly after late nights and midnight snacks
Moderna has already promised to supply the federal government with 100 million doses by the end of March and another 100 million by the end of June. Pfizer has indicated it can provide 120 million doses by the end of March and another 80 million by the end of May, two months earlier than its initial July target.
Additional vaccine supply is also expected to come from Johnson & Johnson, which submitted its application for a single-shot coronavirus vaccine to U.S. regulators earlier this month. If approved, the easy-to-store vaccine would further augment supply, though production setbacks are expected to limit availability until the spring. It’s also possible that vaccine experts may only recommend the vaccine for certain age groups.
Evidence from laboratory tests suggests the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines work against variants, but the ability of the immune response to block the South African variant is diminished. Another vaccine, developed by Novavax, was highly effective against the variant first discovered in Britain but far less so against the South African variant.Read:Keeping those at highest risk of COVID-19 safe during latest surge
Carolyn Y. Johnson and Amy Goldstein contributed to this report.