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U.S. not using emergency powers to speed production of COVID vaccine

By: - December 21, 2020 10:32 am

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams receives a COVID-19 vaccine to promote the safety and efficacy of the vaccine at the White House on December, 18, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images)

U.S. Surgeon Jerome Adams on Saturday said last week during a visit to Ohio that the federal government has invoked the Defense Production Act hundreds of times in the fight against coronavirus. But it is not using it to speed production of two vaccines that now have been approved.

At a press conference during a visit to Columbus, Ohio, Adams sought to assure the public that the two vaccines — one produced by Pfizer and the other by Moderna — are safe and effective, so people should get them when they become available. But it’s hard to know when that will be.

Adams, a member of President Donald Trump’s Coronavirus Task Force, didn’t answer directly when asked if he’d talked to Trump or Pence using the Defense Production Act or some other federal authority to scale up production of the approved vaccines, both of which were more than 90 percent effective in clinical trials.

“These vaccine companies have every interest in the world to make as much vaccine as they can because they want this pandemic to end and the federal government is purchasing these vaccines,” he said. “And I can tell you with every degree of certainty from being on the coronavirus task force that we are doing everything we can to produce these vaccines as quickly as possible.”

Adams noted that the United States was on track to vaccinate 20 million Americans by the end of the year. 

But last summer, before Pfizer’s vaccine received emergency approval, the Trump administration passed on the company’s offer to allow the government to lock in hundreds of millions more doses at no risk. The European Union subsequently locked in 200 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, meaning that the company might have to fulfill those orders before allocating any more to the United States.

Adams’ statements Saturday come even as the Trump administration and Pfizer have been feuding publicly over whether Pfizer is experiencing production bottlenecks or whether the government itself is hampering Pfizer’s efforts to ship the vaccine.

It might seem that the Defense Production Act is just the mechanism to ensure that the maximum amount of vaccines make it into American arms and bring the pandemic under control as quickly as possible.

But Adams insisted it wasn’t necessary.

“We are leveraging it where we need to use it, but at some point, if they are working at max production and there’s just no more supply to input into the process,” he said, “then saying you’re using the Defense Production Act is literally just saying you’re going to use the Defense Production Act.”

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Marty Schladen
Marty Schladen

Marty Schladen has been a reporter for decades, working in Indiana, Texas and other places before returning to his native Ohio to work at The Columbus Dispatch in 2017. He's won state and national journalism awards for investigations into utility regulation, public corruption, the environment, prescription drug spending and other matters.

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