President Biden on Wednesday said that the US government is buying another 100 million COVID-19 vaccine doses from Johnson & Johnson to ensure “maximum flexibility” in ending the pandemic.
The one-shot doses aren’t expected to arrive until after the US amasses enough vaccine supplies for all residents in May, but Biden said he wanted more shots to guard against unforeseen issues.
“I’m doing this because in this wartime effort we need maximum flexibility,” Biden said at a White House event to announce the purchase.
“There’s always a chance that we’ll encounter unexpected challenges or will — there will be a new need for a vaccine effort or vaccination effort. A lot can happen. A lot can change. And we need to be prepared.”
The recently approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires a single shot, unlike previously approved two-dose vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna.
The Johnson & Johnson shot was found to be 66 percent effective overall in preventing moderate to severe illness 28 days after vaccination, and 85 percent effective in preventing severe disease.
The US already ordered 300 million doses each from Pfizer and Moderna — enough for 300 million people, or roughly all Americans — as well as 100 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine.
Biden said the US ultimately will help other countries with vaccine distribution if there’s more vaccine doses than are needed domestically.
“This is not something that can be stopped by a fence — no matter how high you build a fence or a wall. So we’re not going to be ultimately safe until the world is safe,” Biden said.
“And so we’re going to start off making sure Americans are taken care first. But we’re then going to try to help the rest of the world.”
Johnson & Johnson has struggled with its initial vaccine production rate following Food and Drug Administration approval last month — supplying the government just 4 million doses of 20 million planned this month. The company is partnering with Merck and Emergent BioSolutions to produce more doses and reportedly expects to complete the initial 100 million dose order in June.
Biden was supposed to speak Wednesday at an Emergent facility in Baltimore, Maryland, but his speech was hastily relocated after a Sunday report detailed Emergent’s role in aggressively pushing the government to buy an anthrax vaccine that does little more than cheap antibiotics to improve patient outcomes.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the US Strategic National Stockpile spent 40 percent of its funds in 2010-2018 on the anthrax vaccine, rather than on masks, gowns and other supplies that were in short supply for COVID-19, resulting in nurses having to wear trash bags.
Nearly 19 percent of the US population has received at least one vaccine dose and about 10 percent are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
US states began vaccinating vulnerable adults in mid-December following a lengthy FDA review period of the vaccine from Pfizer and partner BioNTech, which was about 95 percent effective in trials. The FDA quickly approved a second two-dose vaccine produced by Moderna with similar efficacy.