WASHINGTON (WFLA/NewsNation Now) — The Biden administration ordered 200 million more coronavirus vaccines and will funnel more doses to states now, in a bid to deliver on the U.S. president’s promise to curb the pandemic, President Joe Biden announced Tuesday.
Biden, who took office last week, is in a race to contain the virus as faster-spreading variants threaten to increase the death toll across the United States, which has already been hard-hit.
The administration is briefing state governors on Tuesday about its plans to increase the amount of the vaccine going to those local governments to 10 million doses per week for the next three weeks, up from 8.6 million currently, according to a senior administration official who declined to be named.
The administration ordered 100 million doses each of the vaccines made by Pfizer Inc and Moderna Inc, increasing the overall total doses to 600 million, with delivery expected by summer. Each vaccine requires two doses per person to be fully effective, suggesting the new purchases would cover most of the country’s 331 million people.
The administration also promised to provide notice to the states three weeks in advance of how much vaccine they would be getting in the future.
Amid the rising frustration, the Biden White House scheduled its first virus-related call with the nation’s governors Tuesday. President Joe Biden planned to give an update on efforts to bolster the vaccine supply and put more shots into Americans’ arms more quickly, press secretary Jen Psaki said.
Biden made management of the pandemic a core issue in his presidential election campaign, but in its early days, the administration has sent mixed messages about when exactly the vaccines will be fully administered.
The administration has also promised more openness and said it will hold news briefings three times a week about the outbreak that has killed over 420,000 Americans.
The setup inherited from the Trump administration has been marked by miscommunication and unexplained bottlenecks, with shortages reported in some places even as vaccine doses remain on the shelf.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Biden’s brand-new director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was herself flummoxed over the weekend in trying to describe current supplies.
“I can’t tell you how much vaccine we have,” she told “Fox News Sunday,” describing the problem as a challenge left by the outgoing Trump administration. “And if I can’t tell it to you, then I can’t tell it to the governors, and I can’t tell it to the state health officials.”
On Monday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said the state is “at the mercy of what the federal government sends us” and can’t meet growing demand from residents.
Officials in West Virginia, which has had one of the best rates of administering vaccine, said they have fewer than 11,000 first doses on hand even after this week’s shipment.
“I’m screaming my head off” for more, Republican Gov. Jim Justice said.
The weekly allocation cycle for first doses begins on Monday nights, when federal officials review data on vaccine availability from manufacturers to determine how much each state can have. Allocations are based on each jurisdiction’s population of people 18 and older.
States are notified on Tuesdays of their allocations through a computer network called Tiberius and other channels, after which they can specify where they want doses shipped. Deliveries start the following Monday.
A similar but separate process for ordering second doses, which must be given three to four weeks after the first, begins each week on Sunday night.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the CDC reported that just over half of the 44 million doses distributed to states have been put in people’s arms. That is well short of the hundreds of millions of doses that experts say will need to be administered to achieve herd immunity and conquer the outbreak.
The U.S. ranks fifth in the world in the number of doses administered relative to the country’s population, behind No. 1 Israel, United Arab Emirates, Britain and Bahrain, according to the University of Oxford.
The reason more of the available shots in the U.S. haven’t been dispensed isn’t entirely clear. But many vaccination sites are apparently holding large quantities of vaccine in reserve to make sure people who have already gotten their first shot receive the required second one on schedule.
DeSantis announced Monday that all residents and staff members at long-term care facilities in Florida will be offered a vaccine by the end of the month. He said that 97 percent of residents and staff have already been vaccinated so far.
“We have done more senior vaccinations, 65 and up, than any other state in the country. And it’s not even close,” DeSantis said. “Almost 70 percent of every shot given in Florida so far has gone to a senior citizen, and that number is going to continue to grow.”
According to the Florida Department of Health’s daily COVID-19 vaccine report, 1,446,580 total people have been vaccinated. Of that number, 1,270,739 have received their first dose and 175,841 have received their second dose.