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Pfizer pledges dramatic increase in COVID vaccines during Biden visit to Michigan

Joe Biden
In his first trip back to Michigan as president, Joe Biden on Friday promised enough COVID-19 vaccines for every American by the end of July. (Screenshot)

President Joe Biden on Friday praised Michigan workers producing Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine and said he thinks the United States will be “approaching normalcy” by the end of 2021 because of the massive inoculation effort.

“God willing, this Christmas will be different than the last,” Biden said Friday after touring a Pfizer production facility in Portage during his first trip to Michigan as president. 

The Kalamazoo County plant is one of three nationwide involved in the production of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. The doses are produced, labeled, packaged, frozen and shipped by more than 2,200 employees in the facility. 

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During the visit, Pfizer CEO Albert Boula pledged to increase U.S. supply from an average of 5 million doses per week to at least 10 million in coming weeks. The federal government is paying Pfizer $6 billion to supply 300 million doses by July, and the company is on pace to ship 120 million of those by the end of March.

Boula praised Biden’s recent decision to utilize the Defense Production Act to help Pfizer secure “critical materials and equipment” to expand operations in Michigan, Connecticut and Kansas.

Biden understands “the importance of moving at the speed of science,” Boula said, adding that he accepts the president’s challenge of beating the July deadline to supply the vaccine.

“I can’t give you a date when this crisis will end, but I can tell you we’re doing everything possible to have that day come sooner rather than later,” Biden said at Pfizer. 

“And all of you here are doing some of the most important work, right here, that can be done.”

The visit comes as new cases continue to decline in Michigan, but frustrations continue about the pace of inoculations. So far, about 35 percent of those ages 65 and up in Michigan have been vaccinated.

 “There are simply not enough vaccines available for everyone who wants one right now,”  Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan’s chief medical executive, said at a media event Wednesday.

Before giving remarks, Biden toured Pfizer’s “freezer farm” — a warehouse that houses 350 freezers each containing 360,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. He was joined by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township. 

Biden flattered Peters, calling him a ‘“workhorse” and described Whitmer as a “good and close friend” who is doing “an incredible job under very difficult circumstances.” 

Whitmer, who co-chaired Biden’s 2020 campaign and was in contention to be his running mate, joined the president for his drive back to the Kalamazoo Battle Creek International Airport, according to pool reports. 

Republicans have criticized Whitmer for her cautious approach to reopening the state despite falling COVID-19 case counts. 

Joining Biden on Friday, the governor missed an opportunity to “explain why restaurants continue to be limited to 25 percent capacity and other onerous restrictions,” said Ted Goodman, a spokesperson for the Michigan GOP. “Instead she used it as a photo op.”

The criticism follows tearful testimony from restaurant owners this week in a legislative hearing and after the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association proposed its own reopening plan that would allow capacity limits and curfews in restaurants to tighten or loosen depending on specific COVID-19 metrics. 

Pfizer, which sells its vaccine worldwide and splits margins with development partner BioNTech, reported vaccine sales of $154 million in the fourth quarter of 2020 and is projecting $15 billion in related revenues for 2021, according to financial documents.

Severe weather delayed Biden’s initial trip to Portage, which was scheduled for Thursday. The winter storms have also slowed the shipment of vaccines nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Biden’s press secretary Jen Psaki said on Friday the administration anticipates it can catch up on the backlog of vaccines next week. 

Among its efforts to ramp up distribution, Biden said the administration plans to create more vaccination centers like the TCF Center in Detroit, where Mayor Mike Duggan announced on Wednesday residents 60 years and older with chronic conditions can also receive vaccinations. The administration has also distributed vaccines to more than 220 pharmacies in 130 cities statewide. 

“That’s just the beginning,” Biden said. 

Officials are also working to deploy mobile clinics that “meet folks where they live” and supply vaccines to Federal Community Health Centers. 

Biden said 370,000 patients have already benefited from the partnership in Michigan, where a network of 41 federally qualified health centers are now serving low-income residents over the age of 65. 

“It’s important to ensure everyone is treated equally and those hardest hit get the care they deserve.” 

Biden closed his remarks on Friday by reiterating his gratitude to the Pfizer workers who he said have seen firsthand “the devastation of this virus to your family, your community.”

“But you’re stepping up,” he said. “You’re saving lives here, the lives of your loved ones, your neighbors, your family Americans. You’re showing how this town, this state, this country, takes care of our own."

“We’re on the road, I promise you. I know we’ll run into bumps. It’s not going to be easy here to the end. But we’re going to beat this.”

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