The United Kingdom kicked off its coronavirus vaccination drive Tuesday morning, just days after the country’s regulator approved Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine for widespread use. The U.S. is set to follow with an unprecedented vaccine drive of its own as soon as the Food and Drug Administration grants emergency authorization for the vaccine, which could come as quickly as this week. The White House is hosting a vaccine summit Tuesday where President Donald Trump is set to sign an executive order making vague, likely unenforceable, assertions about Americans getting all the doses it needs before vaccines are shipped elsewhere. The order amounts to a PR stunt and comes after the New York Times reported that the Trump administration declined the opportunity to lock in tens of millions of additional doses of the vaccine this fall.
Pfizer officials told the Times they warned the Trump administration that supply would be tight and urged the White House to preorder more doses, but they were rebuffed. As a result, Americans could have to wait until midway through 2021 before the country is able to get another batch of doses. The Trump administration agreed to purchase 100 million doses (enough to vaccinate 50 million people) in July for nearly $2 billion. “After it signed its federal contract in late July, Pfizer went on to seal deals with other governments, including the European Union, which last month finalized an agreement to acquire 200 million doses from Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech,” the Times reports. “The federal contract signed in July called for Pfizer to deliver 100 million doses by March at a cost of $19.50 a dose—if its vaccine worked. It gave the government the option to request 100 million to 500 million additional doses. It was one of six contracts that the Trump administration signed with vaccine makers in a strategy intended to hedge its bets and maximize the chances of success.”
The Trump administration’s decision is now looking like the wrong one, as Pfizer and BioNTech have struggled to ramp up manufacturing capacity of the virus, prompting delays. The delivery of enough doses to vaccinate 50 million Americans, initially thought to be complete by the end of the year, has taken longer than expected, pushing back the timeline for delivery into the spring. Other countries have significant preorders that are being filled, which will likely push the U.S. government’s next order back even further. Negotiations are currently underway between New York–based Pfizer and the White House. An administration official told the Times that the White House was unwilling to pay for additional doses in October when they were offered by Pfizer until there was proof the vaccine was effective. Weeks later, the company concluded trials that showed the vaccine to be 95 percent effective.