February 8, 2021

The Biden admin's latest steps to ramp up Covid-19 vaccine production and distribution

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    The Biden administration on Friday announced plans to use the Defense Production Act (DPA) and active-duty servicemembers to bolster America's response to the country's coronavirus epidemic. Here's what you need to know.

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    Biden admin plans to use DPA to ramp up production of medical supplies, vaccines

    Officials on the White House's Covid-19 task force on Friday provided the most details yet of how the Biden administration intends to use the DPA, which allows the federal government to place priority orders with manufacturers, to address America's coronavirus epidemic, Politico reports.

    Task force officials said the administration intends to use DPA to ramp up supplies of Covid-19 vaccines, coronavirus tests, and personal protective equipment. For example, Tim Manning, the national supply chain coordinator for the administration's Covid-19 response, said the administration intends to use DPA to help Pfizer and BioNTech boost production of their Covid-19 vaccine, which is one of the two-dose Covid-19 inoculations currently authorized for use in the United States.

    For example, the administration under the DPA will expand the priority rating on the federal government's vaccine production contract with Pfizer to ensure the company has priority access to filling pumps and tangential flow filtration skid units, which are two critical components the company needs to manufacture its Covid-19 vaccine, Manning said.

    Administration officials said they expect the move will have an immediate impact on Pfizer's vaccine production capacity and could help the company reach its production goal of delivering 200 million vaccine doses to the United States by May, Roll Call reports.

    Officials also said the administration will use the DPA to increase the production of coronavirus tests. Under the DPA, the administration will contract with six diagnostic companies to make more than 60 million at-home or point-of-care coronavirus tests available in the United States by the end of this summer, officials said.

    Manning said the administration intends to work with the diagnostic companies to build new domestic manufacturing plants and production lines to produce the coronavirus tests. Officials declined to name the companies the administration will contract with to make the tests and to note how much the tests will cost, because the agreements have not yet been finalized, Roll Call reports.

    In addition, officials said the administration will use the DPA to increase America's supply of surgical gloves, which are currently in short supply. Manning said the administration will use the DPA to build manufacturing plants to expand the domestic production of raw materials used to make surgical gloves, so the gloves can be produced in the United States rather than abroad. Manning said the United States currently relies heavily on overseas manufacturers to produce surgical gloves.

    Officials said the move could increase America's production of surgical gloves to one billion nitrile gloves per month by the end of this year, which would satisfy half of the United States' demand for surgical gloves, Roll Call reports.

    Biden admin will deploy 1K troops to help vaccinate Americans

    Separately, the Department of Defense (DOD) on Friday announced that it will deploy more than 1,100 active-duty servicemembers to five vaccination centers across the United States to help get more Americans vaccinated against Covid-19.

    CDC data shows that, as of Sunday morning, the federal government had distributed about 59.3 million doses of the United States' two authorized Covid-19 vaccines, which are manufactured by Pfizer and BioNTech, as well as Moderna. Each of the vaccines require that patients receive two doses of the inoculations a few weeks apart.

    According to CDC's data, a total of about 41.2 million doses of the vaccines had been administered to Americans as of Sunday morning. Of those, about 31.6 million Americans had received "one or more doses," and about 9.1 million had received two doses, the data shows.

    The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) late last month requested DOD's help with reaching President Biden's goal of vaccinating at least 100 million Americans against Covid-19 during his first 100 days in office. FEMA asked DOD for up to 10,000 servicemembers to staff its 10,000 vaccination centers across the United States.

    On Friday, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin approved the deployment of five teams of 222 servicemembers each to provide support for FEMA's vaccination sites. According to the Associated Press, DOD said it could approve the deployment of additional servicemembers, per FEMA's request, as FEMA identifies other vaccination sites in need of support.

    Each of the five teams that DOD approved so far will consist of personnel from across the United States' military branches and include 80 vaccinators, 57 clinical staff, 55 general purpose servicemembers, 15 RNs, and 15 command and control servicemembers, according to DOD.

    Where America's coronavirus epidemic stands

    The Biden administration's latest moves come as data from the past week indicates America's coronavirus epidemic is improving when compared with the peak in new coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, and deaths the country experienced last month. However, the reported rates of each of those metrics remain high, and experts say the epidemic's recent progress is on shaky ground.

    According to data compiled by the New York Times, U.S. officials on Sunday reported about 87,889 new cases of the novel coronavirus. As of Monday morning, officials had reported a total of about 27 million cases of the virus since America's epidemic began.

    According to the Times, the United States' average daily number of newly reported coronavirus cases over the past week was 118,016—which is down by 31% when compared with the average from two weeks ago, when the United States was in the midst of its worst peak in newly reported cases.

    As of Monday morning, data from the Times showed that the rates of newly reported coronavirus cases were "staying high" in Arkansas, Colorado, Oregon, South Dakota, and Vermont, which have each reported a daily average of at least 15 newly reported cases per 100,000 people over the past week. In contrast, rates of newly reported coronavirus cases were "staying low" as of Monday morning in Guam, Hawaii, North Dakota, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

    All other states and Washington, D.C., had been seeing comparatively higher rates of coronavirus transmission, but the daily average of newly reported coronavirus cases over the past seven days in those areas was "going down" as of Monday morning, according to the Times' data.

    U.S. hospitalizations for Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, remained high as of Sunday, but still were down significantly from record-highs reported last month. According to data from The Atlantic's COVID Tracking Project, there were 81,439 Americans with Covid-19 hospitalized for treatment on Sunday, including 16,616 who were receiving care in an ICU and 5,342 who were on a ventilator.

    Similarly, the United States' rate of newly reported deaths linked to the novel coronavirus has declined over the past two weeks, though it also remains high. According to data from the Times, U.S. officials reported about 1,301 new deaths linked to the virus on Sunday. As of Monday morning, officials had reported a total of about 463,338 U.S. deaths linked to the virus since the country's epidemic began.

    (Roubein, Politico, 2/5; Cohen, Roll Call, 2/5; Lienhard (1), Inside Health Policy, 2/5 [subscription required]; Lienhard (2), Inside Health Policy, 2/5 [subscription required]; Wang, Inside Health Policy, 2/5 [subscription required]; Mitchell, The Hill, 2/5; Baldor/Alonso-Zaldivar, Associated Press, 2/5; New York Times, 2/8; "COVID Tracking Project," The Atlantic, accessed 2/9; CDC Covid-19 vaccine data, 2/7).

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