Trump promised mass vaccination by spring. To make it happen, Biden could use wartime law.
WASHINGTON - President-elect Joe Biden's coronavirus advisory team asked scientists and supply chain experts whether to invoke a wartime manufacturing law to make and deliver more Covid-19 vaccines, two advisors familiar with the discussions said.
President Donald Trump has already drawn on the Defense Production Act (DPA) to expedite the production of medical supplies and components for testing for the coronavirus, and has raised the possibility of reapplying the law to vaccines. Manufacturers have said there may be a shortage of components to make the vaccines.
The data protection authority was enacted during the Korean War to enable the federal government to force production production for national defense. Biden's team has been looking at how it can be used shortly after taking office next month to meet the goal of mass vaccination by summer, the advisors said.
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Biden's staff have already begun to warn that the Trump administration's schedule for mass vaccination this spring may be overly optimistic and run the risk of Biden being blamed if expectations are not met. Whether to call on the data protection authority to speed up production could be an early test for Biden.
Scientists advise the Biden team on how the data protection agency could "improve parts of the manufacturing process," said one of the advisors, declining to be more specific.
As part of the negotiations over the sale of 100 million more vaccine doses to Americans, the pharmaceutical company Pfizer has asked the Trump administration to activate the data protection authority. Pfizer, working with its partner BioNTech, and Moderna are the only companies approved by the Food and Drug Administration to use and use Covid-19 vaccines in the United States in case of emergency.
A Pfizer spokesman said the company continues to work with the government and is confident that it "can remove any barriers to ramp-up manufacturing to deliver additional cans."
However, Biden officials say there are a number of serious issues that need to be considered before they can apply the law. A primary concern, said one official, would be how to enforce the law fairly without preferring one company to another.
Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca, two other pharmaceutical companies, are in the final stages of vaccine testing. They are expected to be completed in February and apply for an emergency permit.
Dr. Brett Giroir, who led vaccine studies for the Trump administration, said the majority of the U.S. population could be vaccinated by late spring or early summer. But Biden officials say there are many obstacles in the way, most notably a lack of vaccine supplies.
Topher Spiro, vice president of health policy at the liberal Center for American Progress, said vaccination of 70 percent of the population by spring, which experts say is the level needed to stop transmission of the virus without a significant one Increase is unlikely to deliver.
"At the moment we don't have that," said Spiro. "The point here is to scale production so we can achieve herd immunity as quickly as possible."
There are also concerns about impending syringe and needle shortages, Spiro said.
In July, Spiro and Dr. Zeke Emanuel, member of Biden's Covid-19 transitional advisory board, presented a comprehensive vaccine proposal. Their blueprint envisages using the DPA to "coordinate vaccine manufacturing capacity and supply chains" for glass vials, syringes, needles and other consumables.
Spiro said the law would also help companies with existing manufacturing facilities prepare for mass production of vaccines. He cited pharmaceutical giant Merck as a company with enormous manufacturing capabilities that could be used to make another company's vaccine.
The DPA could also be used to mass-produce the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is expected to require one dose rather than the two-shot regimen required by the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, Spiro said.
Spiro said there are other ways to improve supplies of vaccines and vaccine components without hitting the privacy protection agency, citing a facility at Texas A&M University that has already been contracted by the government to produce vaccines mass-produce.
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