The purchases increase the available supply by 50 percent and bring a total of 600 million cans. Since both products are two-dose therapies, that would be enough to fully vaccinate 300 million people. An estimated 260 million people in the US are currently eligible to receive a coronavirus vaccine, although studies in children ages 12 and older could add to the pool.
Moderna issued a statement confirming the purchase and said it was working “with its domestic manufacturing partners” as well as federal regulators to “explore ways to expedite delivery with the goal of fulfilling this new order of 100 million cans to be provided by the end of July 2021. ”A Pfizer spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Moderna has already promised to supply the federal government with 100 million cans by the end of March and another 100 million by the end of June. Pfizer has said it can deliver 120 million doses by the end of March and an additional 80 million doses by the end of May, two months ahead of its original July target.
As the country tries to stay one step ahead of the spread of the new varieties, which are more transmissible and potentially deadly, senior health officials have expressed confidence that widespread vaccination will soon be possible due to a steady surge in production.
“By the time we get to April, I would call this, to put it better, the ‘open season’, which is that virtually anyone in any category could start getting vaccinated,” said Anthony S. Fauci, senior representative the nation’s infectious disease expert said Thursday on NBC’s “Today” show.
The Biden administration has already increased weekly grants to states by nearly 30 percent, although bottlenecks persist in many areas. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Wednesday the city would temporarily close a mass vaccination site at Dodger Stadium, along with several other locations, because of insufficient doses.
Additional doses are also expected to come from Johnson & Johnson, which filed its application for a single-shot coronavirus vaccine with U.S. regulators earlier this month. If approved, the easy-to-store vaccine would further increase supply, although production setbacks are likely to limit availability until spring. It is also possible that vaccine experts only recommend the vaccine for certain age groups.
Evidence from laboratory tests suggests that Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines are effective against variants, but the ability of the immune response to block the South African variant is reduced. Another vaccine developed by Novavax was highly effective against the variant first discovered in Great Britain, but far less effective against the South African variant.
As more vaccines become available, new challenges arise, including staffing. But health officials say they are preparing.
“We are now planning a strategy, and the good thing is we have a few months of experience to learn from,” said Kevin Litten, a spokesman for the Louisiana Department of Health.
Carolyn Y. Johnson and Amy Goldstein contributed to this report.