The White House, under pressure to do more to address the global coronavirus pandemic, announced Thursday that it will invest nearly $3 billion to ramp up domestic production of critical vaccine components as part of President Biden’s push to make the United States the “arsenal of vaccines for the world.”
The money, $2.7 billion, will go to firms doing business in the United States that make supplies necessary for vaccine production, including lipids, bioreactor bags, tubing, needles and syringes, officials said. It will come from funds appropriated by Congress through the American Rescue Plan, the $1.9 trillion economic stimulus package Mr. Biden signed into law in March.
“This new investment will further expand domestic vaccine manufacturing capacity, helping the U.S. deliver on its commitment to be the arsenal of vaccines for the world and preparing America for future vaccination efforts,” said Jeffrey D. Zients, Mr. Biden’s coronavirus response coordinator, who announced the effort during a briefing with reporters.
Details, however, were scant. The Department of Health and Human Services is in the “final stages” of awarding contracts for the work, and will make announcements in the coming weeks, according to a White House official who was not authorized to speak publicly about the investment. Neither the official or Mr. Zients could provide an estimate of how many doses the investment would yield.
But Mr. Zients said that investing in the supply chain would also “create thousands of good paying American jobs.”
Mr. Biden has already either donated or pledged about 600 million vaccine doses to other countries — a small fraction of the 11 billion that experts say are needed to slow the spread of the virus worldwide. His administration has also taken steps to expand coronavirus vaccine manufacturing in the United States and India, and is supporting production in South Africa and Senegal to expand access to locally produced vaccines in Africa.
But the president has come under increasing criticism in recent weeks from global health advocates and experts who say he is nowhere near fulfilling his “arsenal” promise. Their outrage grew after the administration announced last month that it was recommending booster doses for all Americans — even before the Food and Drug Administration has had a chance to weigh in on whether such doses are necessary.
Worldwide, 81 percent of shots that have been administered have been in high- and upper-middle-income countries, according to the Our World in Data project at the University of Oxford. Only 0.4 percent of doses have been administered in low-income countries.
Activists have been calling for the Biden administration to ramp up vaccine manufacturing around the world as well as in the United States. They also want the administration to press major vaccine makers to share their recipes and technical know-how with other companies — a process known as “tech transfer,” which Thursday’s announcement did not address.
“Major investments in urgent vaccine manufacturing are desperately needed, and after today’s announcement, still far more is needed to make the billions of doses lacking to end the pandemic,” said Peter Maybarduk of the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, which has proposed a $25 billion investment to retrofit manufacturing facilities around the world, with the goal of making 8 billion doses of mRNA vaccine in one year.
Understand Vaccine and Mask Mandates in the U.S.
- Vaccine rules. On Aug. 23, the Food and Drug Administration granted full approval to Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for people 16 and up, paving the way for an increase in mandates in both the public and private sectors. Private companies have been increasingly mandating vaccines for employees. Such mandates are legally allowed and have been upheld in court challenges.
- Mask rules. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in July recommended that all Americans, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks in indoor public places within areas experiencing outbreaks, a reversal of the guidance it offered in May. See where the C.D.C. guidance would apply, and where states have instituted their own mask policies. The battle over masks has become contentious in some states, with some local leaders defying state bans.
- College and universities. More than 400 colleges and universities are requiring students to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Almost all are in states that voted for President Biden.
- Schools. Both California and New York City have introduced vaccine mandates for education staff. A survey released in August found that many American parents of school-age children are opposed to mandated vaccines for students, but were more supportive of mask mandates for students, teachers and staff members who do not have their shots.
- Hospitals and medical centers. Many hospitals and major health systems are requiring employees to get a Covid-19 vaccine, citing rising caseloads fueled by the Delta variant and stubbornly low vaccination rates in their communities, even within their work force.
- New York City. Proof of vaccination is required of workers and customers for indoor dining, gyms, performances and other indoor situations, although enforcement does not begin until Sept. 13. Teachers and other education workers in the city’s vast school system will need to have at least one vaccine dose by Sept. 27, without the option of weekly testing. City hospital workers must also get a vaccine or be subjected to weekly testing. Similar rules are in place for New York State employees.
- At the federal level. The Pentagon announced that it would seek to make coronavirus vaccinations mandatory for the country’s 1.3 million active-duty troops “no later” than the middle of September. President Biden announced that all civilian federal employees would have to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or submit to regular testing, social distancing, mask requirements and restrictions on most travel.
Congress put a total of $16.05 billion in the American Rescue Plan this year, in two separate tranches, that could be used to procure and manufacture treatments, vaccines and tools for ending the pandemic. But in an analysis released last week, the AIDS advocacy group PrEP4All found that all told, the administration had spent $145 million — just $12 million of it from the American Rescue Plan — to expand vaccine manufacturing.
James Krellenstein, a founder of Prep4All and the author of the analysis, said Thursday that the $2.7 billion “does seem like a very significant investment” in the vaccine supply chain. But he questioned whether there is adequate capacity to make “drug substance” — the core ingredients of the vaccines — and whether the fresh investment would actually spur major vaccine manufacturers like Pfizer and Moderna to make more doses.
“It’s kind of like there is a massive cake shortage right now, and instead of making more bakeries, we are making more flour and assuming more cakes will be baked,” he said. “The question I have is, ‘Does the Biden administration have any plans to make more bakeries?’”