Washington, Dec 16 (efe-epa).- The United States is likely to end up with more than enough vaccine to immunize Americans against Covid-19 and will share the excess with other countries, the secretary of Health and Human Services said Wednesday.
“We now have 900 million doses of vaccine that we have contracted for the delivery of. We have options that increase that to a total of 3 billion doses of vaccine,” Alex Azar told reporters.
“We believe that we will actually have surplus supplies of vaccine and that’s why the president (Donald Trump) signed an executive order – made the commitment – that we will take that surplus capacity, not just surplus vaccine but also surplus manufacturing capacity, and use that for the benefit of the world community,” the secretary said.
He noted that the roughly 70 million of the estimated 330 million inhabitants of the US who are under the age of 16 will not be vaccinated.
The first vaccine to be approved for injection in the US, developed by Pfizer Inc. in collaboration with BioNTech, requires two doses.
That is also true of the Moderna formula, expected to receive US government authorization this week, and the drug created by AstraZeneca.
Assuming a two-dose regime, the US would require roughly 520 million doses, leaving a surplus of 380 million based on current figures.
But as Azar stressed on Wednesday, the government has already secured 100 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine candidate.
“So that is 100 million people right there,” he said.
Under the outgoing Trump administration, the US has declined to participate in the World Health Organization’s COVAX initiative aimed at ensuring global access to coronavirus vaccines on equitable terms.
Covid-19 has claimed 1.64 million lives worldwide and the number of confirmed cases is approaching 74 million. No country has been hit harder by the virus than the US, with 304,000 fatalities and 16.8 million infections.
Azar addressed a report in The New York Times that the government is now negotiating with US-based Pfizer, the world’s No. 2 drug-maker, to obtain an additional 100 million doses.
“We are working actively with Pfizer and I will just say I’m very optimistic that we will conclude a successful result,” he said.
The secretary said that Operation Warp Speed, the administration’s program to expedite development of a vaccine, heard from Pfizer about possible problems with production.
“We have recently been informed by them finally of various challenges that they might have in their manufacturing and we will ensure that by whatever mechanism, that we provide them full support to ensure that they can produce for the American people,” Azar said.
Vaccinations with the Pfizer/BioNTech drug began Monday across the US and are continuing at a pace of more than 200,000 per day.
Priority is being given to front-line health-care workers and to residents and staff of nursing homes.
A committee of independent experts is set to meet Thursday to consider whether to recommend that the Food and Drug Administration approve the Moderna vaccine.
Moncef Slaoui, the chief scientific adviser to Operation Warp Speed, said Wednesday that Johnson & Johnson is preparing to begin Phase 3 clinical trials of its Covid-19 vaccine candidate.
Regarding reports that Operation Warp Speed passed on an opportunity to lock-in an additional 100 million doses of the Pfizer drug, Slaoui said that “it wouldn’t make sense whatsoever to preorder more from one vaccine manufacturer than any other one before we knew a vaccine works.” EFE llb/dr