17:04 GMT27 January 2021
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    There has been growing concern that there will be a vaccine shortage in the US once a viable vaccine is released for public use, especially after reports surfaced that US President Donald Trump's administration earlier this year turned down an offer to purchase more Pfizer vaccines.

    US Health and Human Services Secretary (HHS) Alex Azar said on Tuesday that the Trump administration is confident that it has enough contracts with pharmaceutical companies to ensure there are sufficient doses to vaccinate all Americans.

    "We are very confident that during the second quarter of next year we'll have enough vaccines for every American who wants to be vaccinated," Azar said during a Milken Institute health summit, The Hill reported. "So, I don't see where this math is coming from." 

    The US in July agreed to buy 100 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which would only be able to vaccinate 50 million Americans, since each person would require two doses. In addition, the administration also has a contract for 100 million doses of a vaccine from Moderna, which requires that each patient take two doses as well.

    Overall, Operation Warp Speed, the name given to the public-private partnership initiative by the US government to accelerate the development and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics, has contracts with six different companies, which include Pfizer and Moderna, for at least 800 million doses and an option for up to 3 billion, according to The Hill.

    Azar’s latest comments come after the New York Times released a report earlier this week claiming that the Trump administration passed on the offer a few months ago to buy additional doses of Pfizer's vaccine. The US, at the time, only agreed to buy 100 million doses as part of the $1.95 billion deal. According to the Times, the US may not be able to obtain more Pfizer vaccine doses until June, since other countries have already purchased doses of the limited-quantity drug.

    "Pfizer did offer an additional allotment coming out of that [Michigan] plant, basically the second quarter allotment, to the United States government multiple times, and as recently as after the interim data came out and we knew this vaccine looked to be effective,” Former US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, now a member of the Pfizer Board of Directors, revealed to The Hill.

    "I think they're betting that more than one vaccine's going to get authorized and there will be more vaccines on the market, and that perhaps could be why they didn't take up that additional 100 million option agreement," Gottlieb added.

    However, the Trump administration has denied turning down an opportunity to purchase more Pfizer vaccines a few months ago, with one senior administration official, who did not want to be publicly identified, stating that there will be a “sufficient number of doses to vaccinate all Americans who desire one before the end of the second quarter of 2021.”

    Moncef Slaoui, the chief science adviser for Operation Warp Speed, did not deny the Times' claim and instead stated that the administration is relying on vaccines from six different pharmaceutical companies.

    "Let me remind everybody what our strategy is and has always been: We selected six different vaccines to build a portfolio to manage the risk that some may work and some may not work, but also to ensure that as more than one would work we would accumulate vaccine doses from this portfolio of vaccines," Slaoui said on ABC Tuesday, The Hill reported.

    "In the summer if somebody came to us and said 'Let's buy more of this vaccine or that vaccine,' no one reasonable would buy more from any one of those vaccines because we didn't know which one would work and which one may be better than the other," he added.

    Currently, the two most promising vaccines that may be used in the US have been developed by Pfizer and Moderna. Both drugs use technology involving messenger RNA (mRNA), the set of instructions used by cells to make proteins; mRNA vaccines are a relatively new type of treatment that work by providing instructions to healthy cells to generate antibodies for a certain virus or bacterium. 

    Conventional vaccines, on the other hand, introduce a weakened or dead virus or bacterium into the body. This induces an immune system response, allowing the body to recognize and fight the pathogen in the future.

    Pfizer and Moderna have both applied for emergency use authorizations from the FDA. An external expert committee is expected to review data from Pfizer’s vaccine by Thursday to determine whether the FDA should authorize it as the United States' first COVID-19 vaccine. If the drug is authorized, the first doses of it could be shipped as early as Friday, USA Today reported.

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    coronavirus, COVID-19, Pfizer, US, vaccine
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