Washington: The White House, under pressure from activists to increase the supply of coronavirus vaccines to poor nations, is prepared to invest billions of dollars to expand US manufacturing capacity, with the goal of producing at least 1 billion doses a year beginning in the second half of 2022, two top advisers to President Joe Biden said.
The investment is the first step in a new plan for the government to partner with industry to address immediate vaccine needs overseas and domestically and to prepare for future pandemics, said Dr. David Kessler, who oversees vaccine distribution for the administration, and Jeff Zients, Biden’s Covid response coordinator. “This is about assuring expanded capacity against variants and also preparing for next pandemic,” Kessler said. “The goal, in the case of a future pandemic, a future virus, is to have vaccine capability within six to nine months of identification of that pandemic pathogen, and to have enough vaccines for all Americans.”
The idea for the new public-private partnership is still in its early stages and the price tag is uncertain. Kessler, who has been working on the proposal for months, estimated it at “several billion.” The money has been set aside as part of the American Rescue Plan, the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package Biden signed into law in March. The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Agency intends to issue a “request for information” to solicit ideas from companies that have experience manufacturing vaccines using mRNA technology. Zients said officials wanted responses “in a very short period of time, 30 days, to understand how most efficiently, effectively and reliably we can increase manufacturing.” Activists, many of them veterans of the AIDS epidemic, have been demanding for months that Biden do more to scale up global vaccine manufacturing capacity. Some, furious with what they regard as slow progress, turned up at the home of Ron Klain, Biden’s chief of staff, in September and deposited a fake mountain of bones on the sidewalk. Whether the Biden plan will satisfy the critics is unclear. Many activists have demanded that the administration build up manufacturing capacity overseas, particularly in Africa, but the Biden plan is focused on building capacity among domestic vaccine-makers. “This effort is specifically aimed at building US domestic capacity,” Kessler said. “But that capacity is important not only for the US supply, but for global supply.”