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A giant vaccination center is opening in Houston to administer 126,000 coronavirus doses in the next three weeks. Nevada health officials are working overtime to distribute delayed shots. And Rhode Island is rescheduling appointments after a vaccine shipment failed to arrive as scheduled earlier in the week.

From coast to coast, states were scrambling Tuesday to catch up on vaccinations a week after winter storms battered a large swath of the U.S. and led to clinic closures, canceled appointments and shipment backlogs nationwide.

But limited supply of the two approved COVID-19 vaccines hampered the pace of vaccinations even before last weeks extreme weather delayed the delivery of about 6 million doses.

The White House promised on Tuesday that help is on the way.

States can expect about 14.5 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine this week, an almost 70% increase in distribution over the past month, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday. And White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients told governors on Tuesday that the number of doses sent directly to pharmacies will increase by about 100,000 this week, Psaki said.

The stepped-up efforts come as the COVID-19 death toll in the U.S. surpassed 500,000, far more than any other country.

More than 44 million Americans have received at least one dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, and about 1.4 million per day received either a first or second dose over the past seven days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Although average daily deaths and cases have been falling, some experts say not enough Americans have been inoculated for the vaccine to be making enough of a difference. The decline instead is attributed to the passing of the holidays, more people staying indoors during the winter and better adherence to mask rules and social distancing.

What’s more, they warn that dangerous variants could cause the trend to reverse itself. States are responding by simultaneously trying to catch up from last weeks pause and gear up to vaccinate more people in the coming weeks.

Houston’s federally funded vaccination site will open Wednesday at NRG Park, operating seven days a week for three weeks to distribute 126,000 first doses, before transitioning to second doses, officials said.

Texans are recovering from a devastating winter storm that killed at least 35 people, left millions without power and water, and delayed vaccinations.

“It’s been trauma after trauma, and people deserve some good news, some hope,” said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, the county’s chief elected official.

In Buda, Texas, retired teachers Donna and Gerald Haschke, both 74, were supposed to get their second doses last week but had appointments canceled three times because of the storm. Now their appointment has been rescheduled for Thursday.

The couple are eager to get completely vaccinated after months of scaling back all of their activities as a precaution. Gerald Haschke has heart stents and Donna Haschke has atrial fibrillation, she said.

“My cardiologists said, ‘You do not want to get COVID,’” Donna Haschke said. “I said, ‘No, I don’t.’ To me that was a warning that I need to stay home, so we have done that."

The Haschkes have seen their grandchildren only occasionally and while masked. Donna has stopped going to the YMCA where she used to ride the exercise bike and take water aerobics classes. Shes looking forward to loosening up a bit after her second vaccine shot.

“I am definitely going to do water aerobics," she said. "If I have to wear my mask in the pool, I am going to do that.”

In Mississippi, where COVID-19 vaccinations plummeted last week amid freezing temperatures and icy roads, health officials were automatically rescheduling appointments, and planned to schedule more people than normal for vaccinations through the weekend.

The state Department of Health said Monday that just 32,540 vaccinations were given in the state last week, down from 106,691 the previous week.

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak said Monday that 46,000 doses of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine which were delayed by weather began arriving in the state.

The head of the state’s Bureau of Child, Family and Community Wellness said officials would work overtime to administer those doses along with this week’s regularly scheduled shipment.

President Joe Biden has said that every American who wants a vaccine will be able to get one by the end of July.

But demand continues to outpace limited supplies distributed by the U.S. government.

Executives from five companies with contracts to supply shots to the U.S. — Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca and Novavax — were testifying Tuesday before Congress Energy and Commerce Committee about the supply and manufacturing of doses.

Looking ahead to summer, Pfizer and Moderna executives said they expect to complete delivery of 300 million doses each, and J&J aims to provide an additional 100 million doses. That would be more than enough to vaccinate every American adult, the goal set by the Biden administration.

Arizona is pressing on with plans to increase vaccinations and vaccine access, opening its fourth state-run mass vaccination clinic, state health department officials said. In addition, transportation costs to and from vaccination appointments now will be covered for people enrolled in Arizona’s Medicaid program, Gov. Doug Ducey said.

“This change will make it easier for our most vulnerable Arizonans ... to get vaccinated,” Ducey said in a statement.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom said 11 mobile clinics will open in California’s vast Central Valley, an agricultural region that’s been hit hard by coronavirus. Theyll be used mainly to vaccinate farmworkers who don’t have transportation to larger vaccination sites or can’t navigate the state’s online signup portal.

Newsom said the state also is sending 34,000 extra vaccine doses to that area from a pharmacy that wasn’t using them quickly enough.

© Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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Biden vows enough vaccine for all US adults by end of May

By ZEKE MILLER, LINDA A. JOHNSON and JONATHAN LEMIRE

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden said Tuesday that the U.S. expects to take delivery of enough coronavirus vaccines for all adult Americans by the end of May, two months earlier than anticipated, as his administration announced that drugmaker Merck & Co. will help produce rival Johnson & Johnson’s newly approved shot.

With the bolstered supply, Biden also announced he would be using the powers of the federal government to direct all states to prioritize vaccinating teachers, and said the federal government would provide the doses directly through its pharmacy program. He challenged states to administer at least one dose of the vaccine to all teachers by the end of March as part of his administration’s efforts to reopen more schools across the nation.

“We’re now on track to have enough vaccine supply for every adult in America by the end of May,” said Biden, who likened the partnership between the two drug companies to the spirit of national cooperation during World War II.

The announcement comes as the White House looks to speed the production of the single-dose J&J vaccine and accelerate the nation’s plans to reach “herd immunity” in the U.S. and begin restoring normalcy after the pandemic. Biden noted that vaccine supply was only one bottleneck toward that goal, and that the new challenge will be injecting doses into arms as swiftly as possible.

To that end, the Biden administration told governors Tuesday to prepare for their supplies of vaccine to continue to climb over the coming weeks. Additional doses are also heading toward a federally backed program to administer doses in more accessible retail pharmacies.

Those pharmacies will be key in getting the vaccines into the arms of teachers, which will help reopen schools to better educate students who have been at risk at falling behind during the pandemic.

“Let’s treat in-person learning as the essential service that it is,” Biden said.

Biden had originally suggested that the supply would be enough to vaccinate every adult American by the end of July. But despite the good news, he was leery of predicting when the nation would return to normal. He said, “My hope is by this time next year we’re going to be back to normal,” adding that he maybe it could come sooner.

Officials have said J&J faced unexpected production issues with its vaccine and produced only 3.9 million doses ahead of its receiving emergency use authorization on Saturday. The company has promised to deliver 100 million doses by the end of June.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki also announced Tuesday that the federal government was increasing supply of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines to states next week to 15.2 million doses per week, up from 14.5 million previously. States will also receive 2.8 million doses of the J&J shot this week.

On a call with governors Tuesday, White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients said states should prepare for administering 16-17 million total weekly doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines by the end of March, climbing to 17-18 million weekly by early April. The supply of J&J doses to states, expected to dip after the initial shipment this week, will climb to 4-6 million weekly doses by the end of March and 5-6 million doses weekly through the end of April.

More than 800,000 doses of the J&J vaccine will also be distributed this week to pharmacies to administer in a separate federally-run program that also includes 2.4 million doses of the other two shots. Both figures are expected to steadily increase, as the White House increasingly looks to the capacity of pharmacy chains like CVS and Walgreens to help speed the nation’s mass vaccination campaign.

Facing questions about the company’s slipping delivery schedule, J&J Vice President Richard Nettles told lawmakers on Capitol Hill last week that the company had faced “significant challenges” because of its “highly complex” manufacturing process.

The assistance from Merck was expected to help J&J meet its production commitments and expand supply even further, but the administration did not immediately provide specifics.

Psaki said that an “across the administration effort” was required to get the two historic rivals to work together on the vaccines, even though conversations between the two companies have been going on for months.

“There’s a difference between conversations and it moving forward,” she said.

President Joe Biden is set to highlight the development in a speech Tuesday afternoon, as his administration now expects to have enough supply of the three approved vaccines to inoculate all eligible American adults by June — though actually delivering the injections could take longer.

It was not immediately clear when the effect of Merck’s assistance would be reflected in supply. Previously, federal officials have cautioned that setting up the highly specialized manufacturing lines to produce vaccines would take months.

The White House said Merck would devote two plants to the production process. One would make the vaccine and the other would handle inserting the vaccine into vials and ensuring strict quality controls. Psaki said the Biden administration was using its powers under the Defense Production Act to help Merck retool to work on the production.

The news was first reported by The Washington Post.

Compared to the two-dose versions produced by Moderna and Pfizer, the J&J vaccine is less resource intensive to distribute and administer, making it a critical piece to U.S. plans to spread vaccinations around the world — but only once Americans are inoculated. The J&J vaccine can be stored for months at refrigerated temperatures, rather than frozen, and doesn’t require patients to return for a second dose three or four weeks later.

J&J has set up a global production network that includes brewing bulk vaccine at its Janssen facility in the Netherlands, and with a company in the U.S., Emergent BioSolutions, and another in India, Biological E. Ltd. Other contract manufacturers are lined up to help with later steps, including putting the vaccine into vials, in the U.S., Italy, Spain and South Africa.

In the scramble to create COVID-19 vaccines, the three Western drug makers who’ve dominated the vaccine industry for decades — Merck & Co., Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline — surprisingly all fell short. Merck halted its own plans to develop a coronavirus vaccine earlier this year, finding that their candidates were generating an inferior immune system response compared with other vaccines. It said it would instead focus its work on developing treatments for COVID-19.

Now, amid the global clamor for more vaccine doses, those heavyweights are helping manufacture doses for less-experienced rivals whose vaccines won the first emergency authorizations from regulators.

Merck has since said it was in talks to help other drug companies with vaccine production, but wouldn’t say Tuesday whether other deals are imminent.

“Merck remains steadfast in our commitment to contribute to the global response to the pandemic and to preparing to address future pandemics,” the Kenilworth, New Jersey-based company said in a statement.

Sanofi Pasteur, named for pioneering French biologist Louis Pasteur, produces more than 1 billion vaccine doses a year and is a leader in pediatric, influenza and polio vaccines. It, too, has had delays with its COVID-19 vaccine candidates. While it tries to resolve those problems, Sanofi has agreed to bottle and package about 125 million doses of the vaccine from Pfizer and German partner BioNTech, as well as roughly 12 million doses per month of J&J’s vaccine.

GlaxoSmithKline, which makes vaccines against shingles, hepatitis, meningitis and many childhood illnesses, has focused its COVID-19 efforts on combining its adjuvant technology with rival companies’ vaccines. Adjuvants boost immune system response to vaccines, meaning smaller doses could be used and supply could be stretched.

___

Johnson reported from Fairless Hills, PA. Lemire reported from New York. Lauran Neergaard in Washington contributed to this report.

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