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Vaccine Rollout On Track, Expect 300M Doses Through March

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If the initial success of the Pfizer-BioNTech rollout continues, and emergency use authorization (EAU) is granted to Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines in development, Operation Warp Speed officials expect to have 300 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to distribute across the United States between now and March 31.

The initial rollout remains on track, said Alex Azar, US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary, during a media briefing today. “We continue to have good news to report. As of today, shipments of vaccine will have been delivered to every delivery site identified by public health jurisdictions for our first wave of shipments.”

Anomalies in shipments to California and Alabama arose when temperature monitors showed the Pfizer vaccine dropped lower than the recommended -80 ºC (-112 °F). These vaccine trays remained on delivery trucks and were returned to Pfizer for prompt replacement, said Operation Warp Speed Chief Operating Officer Gen. Gustave F. Perna.

Azar estimated another 2 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine will be available next week. “And if the Moderna vaccine is authorized by the FDA in the coming days, we have allocated nearly 5.9 million doses of that product.”

The Moderna vaccine data released this week look promising, said Moncef Slaoui, PhD, Operation Warp Speed chief scientific adviser. “In the short term, I expect the protection to be quite significant.”

The findings in the first 2 weeks after the first dose show up to 65% protection, he said, and predicted the second-dose efficacy data will be coming in the next few weeks.

Enrollment in the phase 3 Johnson & Johnson trial with nearly 44,000 participants is expected to end December 17. Initial efficacy results are anticipated by early January, with more complete efficacy numbers by late January, Slaoui said.

The AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine trial also is underway with enrollment continuing. “We expect accruement to end in late December or early next year, with first results expected probably in February,” Slaoui said.

Antibody Treatments Underutilized

The media briefing also addressed COVID-19 therapeutics. Azar reported low uptake of available antibody therapies. “I want to remind Americans that there are two authorized antibody treatments that Operation Warp Speed has supported. They can help prevent hospitalization in those patients with the highest risk for severe disease.”

The higher-risk group includes those who are 65 and older and people with comorbid conditions that put them at increased risk for COVID-19 hospitalization.

The federal government allocated more than 330,000 doses of these treatments and many states have product available, Azar said.

Slaoui agreed, saying there is a “disappointing level of usage of monoclonal antibody therapy in hospitals. We look forward to that improving.”

Up to 3 Billion Vaccine Doses Possible

“We now have more than 900 million doses of the vaccine we have contracted delivery for,” Azar said. The government has options to increase that to a total of 3 billion doses.

In addition to the 100 million Pfizer vaccine doses and 100 million Moderna doses already ordered, the government just took an option for another 100 million Moderna doses for the second quarter of 2021. Operation Warp Speed officials are negotiating with Pfizer for additional product as well.

Azar added that there are 100 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in active production and expects AstraZeneca can provide 300 million doses of their product.

With the possibility of three or more vaccine products and with 330 million Americans, minus the 70 million or so children under age 16, “we believe we will actually have surplus supplies,” Azar said. Plans are to take the US surplus vaccine and surplus manufacturing capacity “and use that for the benefit of the world community.”

Damian McNamara is a staff journalist based in Miami. He covers a wide range of medical specialties, including infectious diseases, gastroenterology and genomics. Follow Damian on Twitter:  @MedReporter.

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