WASHINGTON (CN) — President Joe Biden said Tuesday that the U.S. will have enough supply of Covid-19 vaccine doses to inoculate every American adult by the end of May, two months earlier than previously expected.
The president delivered the new projection while announcing a partnership between two of America’s largest pharmaceutical companies, Merck and Johnson & Johnson, to rapidly produce Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine that was approved for emergency use over the weekend.
He said the deal was reminiscent of collaborations between American businesses during World War II, noting Merck’s newly fitted factories will produce vaccine doses 24 hours a day.
That rampant production will put the federal government on track to have enough Covid-19 vaccine doses for every adult in the U.S. by the end of May — rather than in July, as the administration had predicted in early February.
“When we came into office, the prior administration had contracted for not nearly enough vaccine to cover adults in America,” Biden said. “We rectified that.”
The president also urged Americans to remain cautious Tuesday, saying the country could face setbacks if new variants of the virus continue to spread, including those first identified in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil.
“Now’s not the time to let our guard down, people’s lives are at stake,” Biden said.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki announced the “unprecedented, historic step” at a briefing earlier Tuesday, noting the normally competing pharmaceutical giants will work together in a deal facilitated by the administration.
The government’s role, Psaki said, would be in part through invoking the Defense Production Act to equip another two Merck facilities with the necessary upgrades to make the vaccine, as well as asking the Defense Department to provide daily logistical support.
The partnership between Merck and Johnson & Johnson speaks broadly to the Biden administration’s ability to bring differing sides to the negotiating table, Psaki said.
“When the president first came into office and as soon as we learned of the fact that Johnson & Johnson was behind in manufacturing steps and efforts, we took steps to ensure we could expedite that and partner them with one of the world’s biggest manufacturers,” she said.
At his afternoon press conference, Biden also said that while over 30 states had prioritized educators and school support staff as essential workers, he has federally mandated that they be included in early rounds of vaccinations.
The president acknowledged schools could reopen if only a portion of staff were vaccinated and the right steps were taken, as outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In response to uncertainty and anxieties expressed by teachers and school staff, Biden said in-person learning should be treated “like the essential service it is.”
He said that by the end of this month, the administration would like to see all Pre-K through 12th grade educators, support staff and child care workers inoculated with at least the first shot of a Covid-19 vaccine.