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WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is willing to consider almost anything to boost the nation’s dwindling supply of Covid-19 vaccines.

A new strategy document released Thursday, totaling nearly 200 pages, offers the first clear list of the options President Biden has before him, though it doesn’t specifically say he’ll actually take all of the steps. On the list are some controversial ideas, like cutting the amount of vaccine being administered to each American. He’s also made it clear he wants to utilize the Defense Production Act to ramp up production of key supplies, and some more straightforward options like buying more doses.

Governors and mayors around the country have complained in recent weeks that they do not have enough vaccines to meet current demand. Biden, too, has acknowledged that the supply of physical vaccines is not where it needs to be to vaccinate a majority of Americans. Already, the Trump administration stopped holding vials in reserve, in hopes of releasing more vaccines to the public.

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The easiest idea, of purchasing more vaccines, may not be particularly helpful in the short term. The U.S. has already purchased 200 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine as well as 200 million from Moderna, but the full orders won’t be delivered until the middle of the year. The country has the option to buy hundreds of millions more, but they wouldn’t be delivered until after that.

The Biden administration will also “explore” so-called dose-sparing strategies to stretch vaccine supply, the report reveals. When the Trump administration considered one dose sparing strategy, of administering a smaller volume of vaccine to each patient, the Food and Drug Administration balked.

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It said the idea “is premature and not rooted solidly in the available evidence.”

“Without appropriate data supporting such changes in vaccine administration, we run a significant risk of placing public health at risk, undermining the historic vaccination efforts to protect the population from COVID-19,” then-FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn and the agency’s top vaccine regulator Peter Marks said in a statement.

The Biden administration acknowledged that, saying it will look at dose-sparing “while maintaining a commitment to abiding by FDA recommendations.”

The Biden administration also plans to negotiate with existing suppliers of vaccines to reduce minimum shipment sizes. The current minimum order for the Pfizer vaccine is 975 doses, which some rural hospitals have complained would be difficult to use up before the vaccine must be thrown out. Moderna does not have this problem: Its minimum shipment is 100 doses.

Biden’s new plan stops short of promising to use the Defense Production Act to order companies to make more physical vaccines, although Biden’s Covid-19 coordinator Jeff Zients recently told the Washington Post that that option is on the table.

Instead, the plan foreshadows two uses of the Defense Production Act that the Biden administration believes will increase the availability of vaccines.

The first is using the law to produce so-called low dead space needles, which are needed to extract a sixth dose of Pfizer’s vaccine from the vial. The second is to increase the supply of the lipid nanoparticles needed to make all mRNA vaccines — the category that both Pfizer and Moderna’s products fall into.

The Biden administration is also pledging to closely supervise the vaccine manufacturing process. Federal officials will be on site at so-called contract manufacturing organizations that make vaccine components like syringes and vials “to monitor and support operations.”

  • I’m no genius, but it’s obvious that production of COVID vaccines needs to be increased. Existing manufacturers won’t meet demand. Resorting to rationing of a vaccine(into “half-doses”) that needs to be delivered in exact doses to be effective is just insane.

    Johnson & Johnson and Novavax have results from large trials coming in days for their COVID vaccines(not based on mRNA), both have reserved production facilities for their vaccine. Inovio is another vaccine developer that is far ahead – but its DNA vaccine is more complex than Pfizer’s or Moderna’s. Give them emergency approval as soon as possible – and tell those other companies like Sanofi-Pasteur and GSK to get off the fence and begin cooperating with these companies who are ahead of them.

    The production capacity is out there, but is currently under-utilized. Over-engineering the process is not going to get results.

  • Would Pfizer and Moderna please tell me how man doses are they delivering per week to the USA?
    When if ever will the Oxford university/AstraZeneca vaccine be approved by the FDA? Or do we wait for about say a quarter of India’s population has been vaccinated?

  • I appreciate the article, but I am not at all sure more supplies of the current vaccines will help.
    I urge everyone to follow the international media on this – Stat is great but can not cover everything happening in the world.
    Reports from South Africa are all pretty scary:

    1. The new variant is infecting a great many people who were infected in the first wave and recovered.

    2. The new variant is far more infectious than the first wave was.

    3. The new variant is making a lot more young people very sick.

    So, assuming all that is good information, let’s look at what will happen here if/when it gets here.

    A. The US has had surges everywhere by now – and it is very likely the main reason they subsided is partial herd immunity.

    B. More than 95% of the immunity out there is due to past infection, not the vaccine.
    (my best guess – we have, per Scott Gottlieb, about 60M people who got infected so far, and about 3M who have been vaccinated)

    So, my view is, we need to keep the South Africa variant out of the country at all costs because we will have a brand new epidemic if it gets here – Dr. Fauci says we can modify the vaccine fairly easily but we can not even get the current vaccines into people’s arms. And Dr. Fauci also says the current vaccines are so good they give a “cushion” where they will help a lot -but the reinfections in South Africa seem to indicate otherwise.

    I am coming to my point,

    The media reports of the “quarantine” to keep South African variant out – which are supposed to be same as rules for other countries – no special restrictions on the new pandemic strain – are, travelers from SA get negative tests before boarding, then come here, get a screen of some sort, then go into VOLUNTARY quarantine.

    Talking to friends I learned, if you go to Taiwan, you get quarantined, in a hotel, UNDER ARMED GUARD,

    We all need to contact The White House, our Congressman, and Senators, to demand severe quarantine to keep this variant out of the US – even a delay of a few months can save the country from massive destruction.

    Please pass the word. If this sounds alarmist, get online and search it up and tell me how I am wrong. Thank You.

  • Taxpayers funded the vaccine development.

    The reason there are shortages now is because “Western” governments, including the Biden Admin, refuse to nationalize the intellectual property THAT WE ALREADY PAID FOR so that generic vaccine can be produced.

  • Work to approve more vaccines. Emphasize those easier to store, transport, especially one dose vaccines. Work with the new suppliers to produce vaccine as rapidly as possible. Lower cost is also good.

    Do not compromise vaccine use.

  • Any news on Moderna updating their template to account for the new mutations that can evade the current vaccine line?

    • I also want to know about updating the vaccines to account for the South African variant. Dr. Fauci gave a press conference where he seemed to not view this as a big problem, but that makes no sense to me. He said the current vaccines are so good there is a “cushion” but reports from South Africa are, there is a high rate of reinfection, people who were sick before are getting sick again with the new variant.
      There is every reason to think our population, with partial herd immunity from past infection controlling the epidemic, more than anything else, will have the new variant run through us, WORSE than the first one.

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