President-elect Joseph R. Biden plans to release all doses of coronavirus vaccine as president, replacing the Trump administration’s policy of holding back half the supply to guarantee the second dose is available.
Mr. Biden’s team said it will detail the plan after he is sworn in on Jan. 20, though it reflects a desperate push to provide some level of protection against the virus that’s killing at least 3,000 Americans per day.
“The president-elect believes we must accelerate distribution of the vaccine while continuing to ensure the Americans who need it most get it as soon as possible,” transition spokesman T.J. Ducklo said. “He supports releasing available doses immediately, and believes the government should stop holding back vaccine supply so we can get more shots in Americans’ arms now.”
Approved vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna require two doses given 21 days and 28 days apart.
Mr. Trump’s team, Operation Warp Speed, is holding back half of the supply of doses to ensure the booster shot is available after the first one. But some experts say the crisis has gotten so bad that initial supply should be given immediately instead of waiting for manufacturing to ramp up. Countries like the U.K. are employing that strategy, delaying the second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine by up to 12 weeks.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration opposes any riff on the dosing schedule that was proven in human trials.
The Biden team is likely banking on an uptick in manufacturing to carry out its plan. Mr. Biden has pledged to use the Defense Production Act to compel private industry to produce needed supplies.
It is unclear how the plan would interact with an expansion of priority groups beyond health care workers or those in nursing homes. States are improvising at the moment, moving beyond the strictures to get shots into more older adults, firefighters or other workers because the deliberate process of inoculating limited subgroups is resulting in doses sitting on shelves.
Only 6.6 million of the 22.1 million distributed doses have been delivered into arms, according to a federal tracker, though expanding the range of eligible people would result in a tipping point where demand exceeds supply.
“I think we need to take an ‘all of the above’ approach and push it out through different channels, including the big box stores, including federal sites that the Biden administration is talking about standing up. We need to try everything right now to create multiple distribution points,” former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday.
Global officials are scrambling to immunize citizens as the pandemic reaches levels that exceed the spring crisis, with over 4,000 U.S. deaths recorded in a single day Thursday and the mayor of London declaring the spread of the coronavirus a “major incident.”
Mayor Sadiq Khan said an estimated 1 in 30 Londoners has the virus. Fearing the National Health Service will be overrun, he said people should stay at home unless they absolutely must leave.
“The number of cases in London has increased rapidly with more than a-third more patients being treated in our hospitals now compared to the peak of the pandemic last April,” the mayor said. “The stark reality is that we will run out of beds for patients in the next couple of weeks unless the spread of the virus slows down drastically.”
“This is a dark and difficult time for our city but there is light at end of the tunnel with the vaccine rollout,” he said. “We are asking Londoners to come together one last time to stop the spread — lives really do depend on it.”
A fast-spreading variant of the coronavirus is complicating efforts. The mutated virus swamped southern England and London and has been discovered in several U.S. states.
Luckily, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine can neutralize the mutation, according to the companies. Scientists replicated a key aspect of the variant and found that serum from people who’d received the COVID-19 vaccine in late-stage trials worked just as well on the mutation as it did on viruses without the new feature.
“This indicates that the key N501Y mutation, which is found in the emerging U.K and South Africa variants, does not create resistance to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine-induced immune responses,” the companies said.
Pfizer said even in the worst-case scenario, it believes its platform is flexible enough to make a more effective vaccine.
“If the virus mutates such that an update to the vaccine is required to continue to confer protection against COVID-19, we believe that the flexibility of BioNTech’s proprietary mRNA vaccine platform is well suited to enable an adjustment to the vaccine,” the company said.
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