There will be enough COVID-19 vaccine doses for all adults in the U.S. sooner than expected, according to President Joe Biden. Just three weeks ago, his administration projected having enough vaccines for all adults in the U.S. by the end of July. Now, however, “We’re now on track to have enough vaccine supply for every adult in America by the end of May,” Biden said in a White House press briefing on Tuesday, March 2.
“That’s progress—important progress,” Biden said, considering the bleaker outlook on the vaccine rollout we faced at the start of 2021. As Biden noted in his statement, his COVID-19 task force inherited major challenges from the previous administration, as SELF reported (such as not enough vaccine being contracted, per Biden).
Biden also announced that he is directing all U.S. states and territories to prioritize vaccinating educators. “We want every educator, school staff member, childcare worker to receive at least one shot by the end of the month of March,” Biden said. Starting the week of March 7, the federal retail pharmacy vaccination program will make educators a priority, which will facilitate schools more safely returning to in-person learning. (While there are currently over 9,000 pharmacy locations participating in the program nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control, non-participating pharmacies and other vaccination sites won’t necessarily have to abide by that prioritization.)
What’s behind the accelerated timeline? One key development here is that Johnson & Johnson will start to produce its single-dose vaccine—which received emergency use authorization last week—around the clock with the “urging and assistance” of the White House, Biden announced. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine joins the two other COVID-19 vaccines that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) already authorized back in December 2020, one developed by Pfizer/BioNTech and one developed by Moderna. Both of those vaccines rely on mRNA technology to create a protective immune response in the body—and they both require two doses, which are given separately a few weeks apart.
To help roll out the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the Department of Defense will provide “daily logistical support” for the company’s production, while the Defense Production Act will continue to “expedite critical materials in vaccine production” like supplies and machinery, Biden explained. A partnership between Johnson & Johnson and pharmaceuticals company Merck will also help increase the supply; Merck is equipping two of its facilities to manufacture doses of the J&J vaccine.
Of course, having enough COVID-19 vaccine doses for all adults in the U.S. by the end of May is not the same as actually administering those shots to people, which will likely take a few more months. To help get that done as quickly as possible, Biden outlined plans to recruit more medical personnel from federal agencies to vaccinate people, as well as offer the vaccine at more pharmacies and mass vaccination sites. (He also urged the Senate to pass his much-delayed American Rescue Plan, which will bolster funding for testing, vaccination, PPE supplies for schools and business, and genomic sequencing to track emerging variants of the virus.)
With the vaccine rollout picking up speed and COVID-19 case numbers down, we are moving in the right direction—yet the U.S. still has a ways to go. “Today’s announcements are a huge step in our effort to beat this pandemic. But I have to be honest with you: This fight is far from over,” Biden said. Basic public health measures remain crucial. “Though we celebrate the news of the third vaccine, I urge all Americans: Please keep washing your hands, stay socially distanced, wear masks,” Biden concluded. “Get vaccinated when it’s your turn. Now is not the time to let up.”