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Health & Science

Moderna And Pfizer Are On Track To Hit Vaccine Targets

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Biden has promised enough vaccines for every U.S. adult by the end of May. That's enough for 300 million people. But before manufacturers can help Biden fulfill that promise, Pfizer and Moderna have an earlier deadline - a hundred million doses each by March 31. NPR pharmaceuticals correspondent Sydney Lupkin is here to talk about how they're doing.

Hi, Sydney.

SYDNEY LUPKIN, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: So March 31 is less than three weeks away. Are Pfizer and Moderna going to have all the doses by then?

LUPKIN: So as of Wednesday afternoon, 124 million Pfizer and Moderna doses had been distributed, and that's since the vaccines were authorized back in December. Now, the companies have their work cut out for themselves. For most of January and February, the companies were distributing a combined 8 to 10 million doses a week. But then in the last week of February and the first week of March, there is an uptick. Combined, the companies distributed around 20 million doses both weeks. And if they keep it up, they'll each hit a hundred million doses by the end of the month. But there's a catch.

SHAPIRO: What is the catch?

LUPKIN: So bear with me here. The contract terms with the government get a little technical, but it turns out that the companies just have to release doses to the government. They tell the government the doses are ready and can be allocated to states and various programs for imminent distribution. But it doesn't mean the vaccines have even left the factories, let alone been delivered. So the companies will hit the contractual goals before doses are distributed and certainly before they're administered.

SHAPIRO: So they might not actually physically have those shots ready to go into arms by the end of the month. But how are they doing anyway? I mean, does it look like they could be on track?

LUPKIN: They could, but it will be challenging. Look at it this way. They've used up about 80% of their allotted time, but they've only distributed around 63% of the doses. But when I looked at the distribution data, I saw some steep increases in recent weeks. So the companies are picking up speed.

SHAPIRO: And now there's another wrinkle with Pfizer specifically. Tell us what's going on with that company.

LUPKIN: Right. So Pfizer's CEO announced in late January that the company would be able to supply 120 million doses by the end of March - so more than a hundred million.

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

LUPKIN: And they say they'll be able to do it because they made some manufacturing enhancements that doubled their output. So Pfizer will need to ramp up deliveries more than Moderna. And right now, Pfizer is lagging a little behind Moderna. Both companies were very confident when I reached out to ask about this. They're benefiting from experience and a lot of federal help. That includes the Biden administration's expansion of an order under the Defense Production Act to get Pfizer some equipment it couldn't get before.

SHAPIRO: So does all of that mean more people, bottom line, are getting vaccinated more quickly?

LUPKIN: It's tough to say. I spoke with Erin Fox, who's running COVID-19 vaccine clinics for the University of Utah Health hospitals.

ERIN FOX: We don't have a good idea of how much we're going to get, really, until it's in our hands. We can't count on it.

LUPKIN: So that's been tough to organize staff and appointments. But she's hopeful things are about to change.

SHAPIRO: So based on what you've learned about this hundred million doses by the end of March promise, how does it look for Biden's promise to have enough doses for every U.S. adult by the end of May?

LUPKIN: You know, it's reassuring. Certainly, hitting a milestone inspires confidence that companies can hit the next one.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR pharmaceuticals correspondent Sydney Lupkin.

Thank you.

LUPKIN: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.