US President Biden to visit Pfizer vaccine plant as vaccinations accelerate

MICHIGAN (BLOOMBERG) – United States President Joe Biden will travel on Friday (Feb 19) to the Michigan plant where Pfizer is manufacturing its Covid-19 vaccine as his administration works to boost the number of shots delivered each day.

The plant, in Portage, just outside Kalamazoo in south-west Michigan, is Pfizer’s largest manufacturing facility. There, the company’s coronavirus vaccine is formulated and filled into vials before being shipped for distribution.

Mr Biden’s visit will be just his second trip away from the East Coast since taking office last month, following a Tuesday appearance in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, at a CNN town hall.

Last week, he toured the National Institutes of Health in Maryland, getting a first-hand look at federal research on the virus. Mr Biden has regularly touted his administration’s progress accelerating vaccinations, and has encouraged any American with the opportunity to take a shot.

“If you’re eligible, if it’s available, get the vaccine. Get the vaccine,” he said during the Tuesday town hall.

The US has given about 1.67 million shots per day over the past week, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker, up from an average of roughly 900,000 per day in the week before Mr Biden took office

Supply is increasing as Pfizer and Moderna, the other company whose vaccine was granted emergency authorisation by the Food and Drug Administration, ramp up their production, as well as efforts led in part by the Biden administration to increase the number of people able to administer vaccines.

Since taking office, Mr Biden has ordered an additional 100 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine, bringing the total to 300 million, which is enough for 150 million people. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines each require two doses.

The President said on Tuesday that Pfizer agreed to speed up shipments after Mr Biden invoked the Defence Production Act, which enables the government to nationalise manufacturing in emergencies.

Unlike Moderna, Pfizer declined full participation in the government’s “Operation Warp Speed” vaccine-development programme under former president Donald Trump. Mr Biden has since scrapped that name.

Before Friday’s virtual meeting of the leaders of the Group of Seven nations, White House officials on Thursday said the US would immediately commit US$2 billion (S$2.65 billion) to the effort known as Covax, which aims to help lower-income countries with vaccines. Mr Biden will pledge an additional US$2 billion through 2021 and 2022 on condition that other nations’ fulfil their commitments.

A third vaccine, from Johnson & Johnson, would require only one shot but the administration said on Wednesday that it sees its distribution starting out slowly once it is authorised by the FDA, which will likely happen within a few days of a Feb 26 meeting to consider the company’s application and clinical data. If the vaccine is authorised, the administration’s contract would be for 100 million doses by the end of June.

White House Covid-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients said on Wednesday that those deliveries would begin with just a few million doses and most distribution would be “back-end loaded”.

Mr Biden’s most recent visit to Michigan was during the final stretch of his campaign, on Oct 31, when he and former president Barack Obama made joint appearances at rallies in Flint and Detroit. He won the state by more than 154,000 votes, which amounted to a 50.6 per cent to 47.8 per cent victory over Mr Trump.

Mr Trump’s narrow 2016 win there, with a 0.23 per cent margin over Mrs Hillary Clinton, was the first Republican presidential victory in the state since that of Mr George H. W. Bush in 1988. While recent state races have also been close, Democrats currently hold the governorship as well as both Michigan Senate seats. Mr Biden seriously considered Governor Gretchen Whitmer, who’s been in office since 2019, to be his running mate.

During his first visit to the state after a group of militia members were arrested for allegedly plotting to kidnap Ms Whitmer, he said: “There’s not a better governor in the United States of America (than her).”

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