U.S. buys 105 million COVID vaccine doses for fall campaign

U.S. health officials said they have agreed to purchase another 105 million doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine in anticipation of a fall booster campaign.


What You Need To Know

  • U.S. health officials said they have agreed to purchase another 105 million doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine in anticipation of a fall booster campaign
  • The $3.2 billion deal announced Wednesday by the Biden administration comes as federal scientists consider how to update the vaccines for variants
  • Yet the purchase comes as top health officials urge Congress to pass legislation that would fund enough vaccine doses for every American to get a booster
  • It’s not yet clear who would be offered a tweaked booster — they might be urged only for older adults or those at high risk from the viru

The $3.2 billion deal announced Wednesday by the Biden administration comes as federal scientists consider how to update the vaccines to better protect Americans from the rapidly evolving virus. Federal officials said the purchase agreement includes the option to purchase a total of 300 million doses, including a mix of doses for both adults and children.

 

The first shots would be delivered by early fall, pending a decision by the Food and Drug Administration to authorize new versions of the shots. A decision is expected from the FDA in the coming days following a Tuesday meeting in which outside advisers recommended modifying the vaccines to better target the omicron variant.

Yet the purchase comes as top health officials urge Congress to pass legislation that would fund enough vaccine doses for every American to get a booster in the fall. The deal announced Wednesday was paid for with a portion of $10 billion in earlier COVID-19 funds that were moved around to pay for vaccines.

Last week, White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha told reporters that the administration still needs more funding in order to purchase enough boosters if they are needed for the whole population.

“We will not have enough vaccines for every American who wants one this fall and winter,” Jha said. “We should have enough for potentially high-risk individuals.”

The current vaccines retain strong protection against hospitalization and death, but their ability to block infection dropped markedly when omicron appeared.

It’s not yet clear who would be offered a tweaked booster — they might be urged only for older adults or those at high risk from the virus. But once the FDA decides on the recipe change, Pfizer and competitor Moderna will have to seek authorization for the appropriately updated doses, time for health authorities to settle on a fall strategy.

Asked about the prospect of funding, Dr. Jha last week said he was positive Congress would pull through, given it is unlikely the tweaked vaccines will be commercially available in the U.S. once ready. European countries are also negotiating large contracts with Pfizer and Moderna for the fall, he said.

“I’m an eternal optimist.  I remain convinced that Congress is not going to walk away at this point in the pandemic, when we have made so much progress and as we are looking into a fall and winter, with a new generation of vaccines,” Jha said.  

Jha said he hopes for a “mild” fall and winter of cases, but he warned that the administration is planning for all scenarios. Last month, officials said as many as 100 million Americans could be infected with COVID-19 through the fall and winter without additional funds to buy things like tests and boosters.

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