President Joe Biden announced a significant bump in COVID-19 vaccine production on Tuesday, just as two states signaled that they are pulling back on their efforts to contain the deadly virus.
Biden’s Vaccine Production Announcement: Biden held a news conference on Tuesday afternoon to announce a plan facilitated by the federal government that will boost the production of the newly approved Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. According to the president, the key takeaway from the increased production is that every American adult will have access to the vaccine by the end of May. Just a few weeks ago, the administration had put this accessibility benchmark at the end of July.
Biden’s team stepped in to help facilitate a higher rate of production when Johnson & Johnson expressed concerns that they would not be able to hit their target. Biden said that the collaboration between the two companies is reminiscent of the partnerships that happened during World War II when competitors would often join together for a common cause.
Evoking the Defense Production Act: In addition to bringing the two competing companies together to ramp up vaccine production, Biden also said that his team is evoking the Defense Production Act to help implement the changes needed at the Merck facilities so that they are able to produce the Johnson & Johnson product. This optimistic target date of May 31 is certainly welcome news for Americans worried about when their time will come up on the vaccination list.
Goal to Prioritize Teachers for Vaccine: Biden also made it a point to say that his administration is directing the governors of each state to put educators at the top of their vaccination rollout lists. While some states have included teachers in the initial phases, other states have not yet prioritized them, choosing to focus on the elderly population instead.
During today’s event, Biden said that the US needs to consider in-person education an essential service. This means that teachers should be considered essential workers and offered the vaccine at the earliest stages of the rollout. The most significant element of this part of the conference is that Biden asked that states administer the first dose of the vaccine to all educators by the end of March.
It did not take long for some states to take this directive from Biden and implement it. Just a few hours after the announcement, Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee announced that his state’s vaccination program was now open to all teachers and school staff, including daycare providers. Up until Biden’s announcement, educators were not eligible to receive the vaccine unless they were over the age of 65.
The Biden administration has made the opening of schools a key initiative of the first 100 days in office. Prior to stepping into the Oval Office, Biden said that he wanted the majority of K-8 schools to be open to in-person learning prior to the end of April.
More on the Johnson & Johnson Vaccine: The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted emergency use authorization (EUA) to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine over the weekend. In addition, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended its usage in adults over the age of 18. Not only does this vaccine have the unique benefit of only requiring one dose, but it is also stable under normal refrigeration. These two qualities make it easier to transport and administer than the current Pfizer and Moderna versions of the vaccine.
The first Johnson & Johnson vaccine was administered on Tuesday in Ohio with millions more expected in the coming weeks across the country. Prior to today’s news about the increase in production, the company had said it had four million does available for immediate shipping and another 20 million in the works by the end of March.
Not Time to Back Down: The president urged Americans to not become complacent about the pandemic just because good news is on the horizon. Biden said that now is “not the time to let up.” He added that Americans need to continue wearing masks, washing hands, and adhering to social distancing protocols. Although cases have continued to drop since the holiday surge, the concern of new variants has some medical experts on edge and warning of a potential fourth wave.
According to the CDC, over 51.7 million Americans have received at least the first dose of the vaccine. Over 26.1 million have received both doses of the coveted vaccine.
Texas and Mississippi Lift Mask Mandates: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves made COVID-19 headlines on Tuesday for different reasons. Both of these governors announced that they were lifting the mask mandates in their respective states. Abbott also lifted all capacity restrictions, claiming that Texas is completely back open for business.
Reeves did not go quite as far as Abbott. The Mississippi governor said that the mask mandate will remain in effect for K-12 schools. He also kept the capacity restrictions in indoor arenas at 50%.
Other States Loosening Restrictions: Texas and Mississippi are not the only states loosening restrictions. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards announced that most of his state’s businesses and restaurants will now be allowed to increase capacity to 75%. He also said that there will be no more restrictions on religious services beginning on Wednesday.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced that restaurants can increase their capacity from 25% to 50% beginning on March 5. Officials in the city of Chicago announced that restaurants are now allowed to operate at the lesser of 50% capacity or 50 people, an increase of 10% from the previous restrictions.