Coronavirus Latest News USA: Increasing the Pace of COVID-19 Vaccinations: How Will the United States Do It?

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Check out the latest COVID-19 vaccine news in the U.S. today. 

Coronavirus Latest News USA: 

  • How the U.S. Plans to Increase the Pace of COVID-19 Vaccinations
  • Johnson & Johnson Looks for Partners to Ramp Up Supply of COVID-19 Vaccine

As the world enters the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccination has moved from and center in policymakers’ responses. But while vaccines offer the surest way out of this crisis, countries are approaching them in different ways. Some countries are racing to vaccinate their populations, while others are waiting for long-term efficacy data before starting. 

In the United States, more than 50 million people have already been vaccinated to date, but most of the population still hasn’t been vaccinated. So, the question remains: How does the U.S. plan to increase the pace of COVID-19 vaccinations? 

How the U.S. Plans to Increase the Pace of COVID-19 Vaccinations

In an interview, Jeff Zients, Biden administration’s coronavirus coordinator, talks with Bill Whitaker about his new role in the Biden administration: how to get COVID-19 vaccines to more people in the United States. 

Jeff Zients: We hit a grim milestone on Monday. 500,000 people have died from COVID in the U.S. And everyone’s life has been impacted. You know, too many businesses and schools are no longer open. So this is a national emergency, a war. 

Bill Whitaker: President Biden said the other day that the rollout was a mess when you took office. What was the situation you inherited? 

Jeff Zients: I wanna start by giving credit where credit is due, which is to the scientists and the researchers and the people who participated in the clinical trials. It enabled us to have two vaccines ready in really a record-period of time and these two vaccines are very effective. So that was the good news. The bad news is there really was no plan to ramp up the supply of those vaccines. So there wasn’t enough vaccine. There were not enough vaccinators, people actually take vaccine and turn it into vaccinations by putting needles into arms.  And then third there just were not enough places for people to get vaccinated. There was no comprehensive plan or strategy–

Bill Whitaker: When you came into office.

Jeff Zients: When we came into office.

Bill Whitaker: But once you step into the office, this becomes yours. 

Jeff Zients: Right. This is absolutely ours. And President Biden, within the first couple of weeks, secured enough vaccines that by July 31st, there’s enough to vaccinate 300 million Americans. 

Bill Whitaker: People are scared. This is life or death for many people. And I think many Americans think that things aren’t moving fast enough.  

Jeff Zients: Well I think that’s a fair feeling this is life and death. We need to make sure that every day we’re getting more and more people vaccinated, we’re increasing the supply, we’re increasing the number of vaccinations, we’re increasing the places where people can go. So, I understand the frustration. And we’re doing all we can to move as fast as we can.

Jeff Zients is tasked with fixing the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. As part of the plan, the administration has supported more than 400 smaller vaccine centers across the country, opened 7 of 18 mass FEMA vaccination sites, and has approved distribution of vaccine through pharmacies, targeting under-served communities.  

Dr. Travis Gayles: I think from a federal perspective, there has been significant improvements. They actually have a plan now. 

Dr. Travis Gayles is the chief public health officer for Montgomery County, Maryland, the most populous in the state and one of the most diverse, right next door to Washington D.C.

According to CDC data, Maryland ranks near the bottom when it comes to getting vaccine in people’s arms.

The state’s most recent weekly allotment shot up to 118 thousand doses – an increase of 55 percent since the start of the biden administration. Even so, dr. Gayles says demand far outstrips supply.  

Dr. Travis Gayles: For example, we have over 72,000 individuals who are over the age of 75 in Montgomery County. We’re receiving as a local health department a weekly allotment of 4,500 doses. 

Bill Whitaker: How do you feel about that? 

Dr. Travis Gayles: Extremely frustrated and exhausted.

His department is focused on inoculating the most vulnerable and under-served communities hit hard by COVID, but he’s having to “prioritize.” By that he means identifying the neediest of the needy for the life-saving shot. 

Dr. Gayles told us he simply needs more vaccine.

Bill Whitaker: Do you have the infrastructure to handle– a surge of doses?

Dr. Travis Gayles: There you are.

Bill Whitaker: You can handle more?

Dr. Travis Gayles: The capacity where we’re set right now, these sites could probably double at least– the number of doses that they put out, given an increase in supply.

With the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine granted emergency use authorization yesterday, millions more doses are being added to the national supply – about 4 million ready to ship as soon as this week. But that’s just 1/3 of what the company had contracted to deliver by this point. Johnson & Johnson blamed the complexities of manufacturing a new vaccine. The company uses emergent biosolutions in Baltimore to turn its proprietary formula into doses of vaccine.

Bill Whitaker: How many employees do you have working on this vaccine?

Sean Kirk: So we’ve got about 350 here and probably another 100 supporting them remotely.

Sean Kirk is the executive vice president in charge of manufacturing. He admitted facing obstacles ramping up production, but he insists they will meet their contracted goal of 100 million doses by July.  

Bill Whitaker: The federal government is calling on the companies to produce more. Are you able to do that?

Sean Kirk: The question of more capacity, I certainly understand it. I mean, I’m a husband, I’m a father, right? I wanna reopen schools. I wanna get everyone vaccinated as quickly as possible. But there are practical challenges to doing that overnight.

Bill Whitaker: What are those challenges? 

Sean Kirk: Well, it’s not like flipping a switch. You know, we build safety into our manufacturing processes from the beginning. We have controls, we have procedures, we have testing. All of that is very complicated, very complex. We’re not manufacturing simple items here, we’re manufacturing complex biologics. And the concerted effort, the choreography if– if you will, and the time it takes to ramp that up, it just simply takes time.

To accelerate the process, the Biden administration, like the Trump administration, invoked the defense production act and forced suppliers to make vaccine manufacturers their top priority. Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla says his company was able to increase its production by 20%. 

Albert Bourla: We are on track to provide to the US government a total of 120 million doses by the end of March, and to reach 200 million doses released by the end of May, two months ahead of the original schedule of that milestone.

Moderna says it will deliver its promised 300 million doses by July, two months early. The RNA-based vaccines of Pfizer and Moderna are the first of their kind. The process to speed up the manufacture of the RNA also pushes the boundaries of bioengineering.  

Read the full interview here: 

Johnson & Johnson Looks for Partners to Ramp Up Supply of COVID-19 Vaccine

Johnson & Johnson has shipped out the first batch of its COVID-19 vaccine to states and pharmacies on Monday, just two days after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave Emergency Use Authorization.

Johnson & Johnson said it planned to roll out 3.9 million doses to state and local governments based on the size of the local adult population as well as federal distribution sites and select pharmacies. Unlike the vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna, which require two doses for full immunization, the Johnson & Johnson vaccines only need one dose, according to the FDA. 

Alex Gorsky, CEO of Johnson & Johnson, said during an appearance on Good Morning America on Monday, “For the last 13 months our physicians, our scientists, our engineers have been working around the clock to make this day possible. We couldn’t be more excited.”

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine does not use the mRNA technology used in Pfizer and Moderna, which teach cells to make a protein that prompts an immune response. Instead, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine uses a viral vector method where a different virus is introduced as a bit of coronavirus’ genetic material into the cells. Then, the body’s immune system learns to identify and overcome the coronavirus.

Furthermore, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine can be stored in normal refrigerators, while, the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines need to be stored at below-freezing temperatures.

Currently, Johnson & Johnson is looking for manufacturing partnerships to increase its supply of COVID-19 rollout. “Johnson & Johnson will deliver 3.9 million doses of its one-shot vaccine within the next 24 to 48 hours,” Gorsky said Monday in a telephone interview. According to Gorsky, the company wants to speed up its timeline of supplying enough vaccines to immunize 20 million Americans by the end of March and a total of 100 million by the end of June. 

“We are doing everything we can partnering with the U.S. government and other external manufacturers to see what we can do to accelerate and increase that number as well,” Gorsky said.

Visit this page regularly for more COVID-19 vaccine news.

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