Joe Biden has said that the US expects to have enough coronavirus vaccines for all adults by the end of May, two months earlier than anticipated, as his administration announced that the drugmaker Merck would help produce Johnson & Johnson’s newly approved shot.
With the bolstered supply, Biden also announced he would be using the powers of the federal government to direct all states to prioritize vaccinating teachers and said the federal government would provide the doses directly through its pharmacy program.
He challenged states to administer at least one dose of the vaccine to all educators by the end of March as part of his administration’s efforts to reopen more schools across the nation.
“We’re now on track to have enough vaccine supply for every adult in America by the end of May,” said Biden.
The president described the partnership between the two drug companies as a “major step forward” in expanding vaccine access to every American, and likened the partnership to the spirit of national cooperation during the second world war.
Before the Johnson & Johnson shot, which was given FDA approval over the weekend, Biden had said the country would have enough vaccines for all Americans by July. He credited his administration’s efforts with moving up that timeline.
Biden’s twin announcements quickly raised expectations for when the nation could safely emerge from the pandemic with the promise of additional vaccines, but it highlighted the looming challenge facing the nation: successfully putting those doses into arms.
Even as he expressed optimism, Biden quickly tempered the outlook for a return to life as it was before the virus hit.
“I’ve been cautioned not to give an answer to that because we don’t know for sure,” Biden said, before saying his hope was sometime before “this time next year”.
Biden’s speech on Tuesday came against a backdrop of states moving to relax their virus-related restrictions, despite health officials warning against relaxing Covid protocols too swiftly.
In Texas, the Republican governor, Greg Abbott, moved to lift his state’s mask-wearing mandate and a host of other limitations, while Michigan’s Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer, eased capacity limits on restaurants and public and residential gatherings. Mississippi is also rescinding its mask mandates beginning tomorrow, the state’s Republican governor, Tate Reeves, announced on Tuesday.
Biden encouraged all Americans to continue wearing masks to limit the spread of the coronavirus, saying: “Now is not the time to let up.”
“There is light at the end of the tunnel,” the president said, but “it’s not over yet”.
Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, has previously raised alarm about new variants of the virus and pleaded against any relaxation of virus-related restrictions until more Americans are vaccinated. Fauci has said the nation must achieve a vaccination rate of about 80% to reach “herd immunity”.
Only about 8% of the population has been fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, though the pace of vaccination has been increasing, with the US setting a new daily record for injections on both Thursday and Friday of last week.
More shots are also heading toward the federally backed program to administer doses in retail pharmacies, which federal officials believe can double or triple their pace of vaccination. More than 800,000 doses of the J&J vaccine will also be distributed this week to pharmacies, on top of the 2.4m they are now getting of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine supply.
The Associated Press contributed reporting