PORTAGE, Mich. – During his first visit to Michigan since elected president, Joe Biden toured the Pfizer manufacturing site in Kalamazoo County Friday, thanking all employees during his live remarks for their effort to help vaccinate Americans against the coronavirus.
Biden’s praise comes as drug company Pfizer is launching its new “Project Light Speed” in an effort to more quickly and efficiently produce and distribute COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, who delivered remarks to the nation ahead of Biden Friday, outlined the company’s goals for production in the coming weeks.
According to Bourla, the company is working to reduce it’s vaccine production timeline by almost 50 percent, reducing production time from 110 days to 60 days. The CEO says the company expects to more than double the number of vaccine doses being shipped within the U.S. each week -- which is currently at five million doses per week -- starting in the next few weeks.
Pfizer is also reportedly on track to ship out 200 million vaccine doses by the end of May this year, two months ahead of their original schedule, Bourla said. To help offer more flexibility to vaccination centers across the country, Bourla says Pfizer is also improving the longevity of stored vaccine doses with a new storage option.
Following his tour of Pfizer’s largest manufacturing site, addressing the nation, President Biden thanked the Pfizer employees for their role in producing hundreds of millions of doses of the much-needed coronavirus vaccine. Biden said the advancement of COVID-19 vaccines was a “miracle of science,” especially after health experts initially believed it could take six to eight years to develop a vaccine.
After criticizing the previous administration’s lack of a national vaccine strategy, Biden outlined his administration’s initiative to ramp up coronavirus vaccine production and distribution, which he called the “most difficult operational challenge this nation has faced.”
President Biden says that the average daily number of people being vaccinated in the U.S. nearly doubled from the week before he took office to an average of about 1.7 million people receiving vaccines each day. With this new average, Biden claims that the nation is not only on track to surpass his commitment of 100 million shots-in-arms in his first 100 days in office, but he expects to exceed that number. Critics have previously argued that 100 million doses was an inadequate goal to begin with, and hoped that distribution pace would be increased when possible.
To ramp up COVID vaccine distribution and access to vaccine doses, Biden says his administration is:
- Deploying more than 800 medical personnel from federal programs to help physically administer vaccines to Americans, including in Michigan,
- Creating new vaccination centers, including setting up mass vaccination sites at stadiums, arenas and community centers around the U.S. that will eventually be open and operating 24 hours a day,
- Shipping coronavirus vaccines to local pharmacies throughout the U.S., including to Rite Aid and Meijer stores in Michigan,
- Deploying mobile clinics to bring vaccines directly to individuals who don’t live near pharmacies or centers administering vaccines,
- Providing funding through FEMA to help bolster vaccination efforts, including $8.3 million for Michigan’s vaccination efforts, and
- Supplying federal community health centers with vaccines to help provide vaccines to vulnerable minority, low-income and/or rural communities.
The president says the country is on track to have a vaccine supply for all Americans by the end of July 2021 -- however, Biden says that does not mean all Americans will have received their shots by July, just that enough doses will be available by that time.
“The vaccines are safe,” Biden said. “Please, for yourself, for your family, your community, this country, take the vaccine when it’s your turn and available. That’s how to beat this pandemic.”
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer joined President Biden on a tour of the Pfizer facility Friday, her team announced hours after the event. Whitmer previously would not say if she planned to meet with Biden during his first official visit to Michigan as president.
In a statement, the governor praised Biden for his efforts to spearhead a national vaccination strategy over the last month.
“President Biden has worked diligently to support Michigan’s vaccine operation since he took office four weeks ago, and today he followed through on his promise to visit our state and personally thank the hard-working Michiganders who are supplying the vaccine to the country,” Gov. Whitmer said. “The number of shots going into arms has increased dramatically since President Biden took office, and the president and I will not stop working until this pandemic is over once and for all. It’s heartening to know that Michigan has such a strong ally in the White House as we continue to curb this virus, equitably distribute vaccines, and work to return to life as normal.”
Biden addressed Whitmer during his live national remarks at the Pfizer facility, saying that Whitmer has become his “good and close friend,” and that she is “doing an incredible job under very difficult circumstances.” The president’s public praise of the Michigan governor is stark in its contrast to former President Trump’s frequent criticism and insults aimed at Whitmer.
The new president has prioritized coronavirus response and vaccination plans for the U.S. since taking office, but is now also pointing to the importance of a global vaccination strategy. Just this week, White House officials announced that Biden will unveil a $4 billion plan for an international effort to bolster the purchase and distribution of coronavirus vaccines to poor nations during a Group of Seven meeting of world leaders on Friday.
The $4 billion in U.S. funding was approved by Congress in December and will be distributed through 2022.
During his closing remarks Friday, Biden addressed his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 rescue plan for the U.S., which includes several benefits for Americans and small businesses struggling amid the pandemic. Biden says he is open to hearing from lawmakers about ways to make his plan better and cheaper, but believes that the expenses are necessary to help the country grapple with pandemic’s negative financial impact.
According to Biden, one in five Americans are currently behind on their rent payments, and one in 10 Americans are behind on their mortgage payments. If the COVID-19 rescue plan doesn’t get passed, 40 millions Americans will reportedly lose SNAP benefits, Biden said. While recognizing the cost of the plan, the president essentially dared critics to tell him which aspects to cut, with billions allocated to schools, vaccination efforts, unemployment costs and more under the plan.
“This is the United States of America, for God’s sake,” Biden said Friday. “We invest in people in need.”
With COVID deaths nearing 500,000 in the U.S. -- which would be almost 70,000 more American deaths than those seen during World War II over a four-year period, Biden said -- the president is asking Americans to continue taking steps to prevent virus spread, including good hygiene and mask wearing.
Biden previously signed an executive order requiring face masks to be worn on all federal government property, and on all modes of transportation including planes, subways and buses. He has also called on local officials to institute their own mask mandates for their jurisdictions, and praised Whitmer for doing so in Michigan.
“I cant give you a date when this crisis will end, but I can tell you we are doing everything possible to make that day come sooner than later,” Biden said.
“We can do anything when we do it together,” he concluded. “It’s not gonna be easy from here until the end, but we’re going to beat this. We’re going to beat this.”
Biden’s visit to Michigan was originally scheduled to take place Thursday this week, but was postponed until Friday due to winter weather conditions impacting the region.
Several shipments of coronavirus vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna have also been delayed to Michigan and other states this week due to severe weather conditions.
White House coronavirus response adviser Andy Slavitt said Friday that the federal government, states and local vaccinators are going to have to redouble efforts to catch up. The setback from sprawling winter storms comes just as the vaccination campaign seemed to be on the verge of hitting its stride. All the backlogged doses should be delivered in the next several days, Slavitt said, still confident that the pace of vaccinations will recover.
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