U.S., Pfizer increase the number of coronavirus vaccines

The additional doses are unlikely to mean an expansion of early access to the shots, which are being rationed for health-care workers and long-term care residents and staff as the coronavirus strains the country’s medical system. But the forthcoming larger supply — increasing by one-third the amount of vaccine available by mid-2021 — averts the possibility of a devastating shortfall in the spring and summer, right as the government was anticipating being able to make immunization available to wider segments of the public.

Pfizer and the biotechnology company Moderna, which have received federal authorization to distribute coronavirus vaccines on an emergency basis, have now promised, between them, to provide the United States with 400 million doses. That would leave the country short of shots for about 55 million adults, based on Census Bureau estimates, though federal officials say they anticipate additional vaccine candidates more than making up the difference.

“With these 100 million additional doses, the United States will be able to protect more individuals and hopefully end this devastating pandemic more quickly,” Albert Bourla, Pfizer’s chief executive, said Wednesday.

According to data maintained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 1 million vaccine doses had been administered in the United States by Wednesday. Nearly 10 million doses had been distributed, mainly to large hospital systems equipped to inoculate large numbers of ICU nurses, respiratory therapists, service workers and others battling an intensifying surge of infections.

“I think it’s a very good pace,” Gen. Gustave Perna, the chief operating officer of the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed, told reporters on Wednesday, saying the number of people vaccinated is larger than federal records suggest because it takes time for vaccinations to be logged.

Perna said 12 states began vaccinations in long-term care facilities this week, through a partnership with CVS and Walgreens, and another 13 states would begin next week. After an uproar from state leaders last week, who said their allocations had been cut without explanation, Perna said the federal government would ship 4.67 million vaccine doses to thousands of sites next week. Shots have been slower to begin in nursing homes and similar settings because of the process of getting consent, sometimes needing to involve residents’ relatives.

The first vaccines are being given as the country faces a rapid surge in infections and deaths and some hospitals are exceeding their capacities. Over the past week, an average of 2,666 Americans died each day of covid-19, the illness caused by the virus — a record. More than 119,500 patients were hospitalized with the virus Wednesday, in another all-time high for the country.

As of Wednesday, the coronavirus has infected 18.4 million people in the United States and killed more than 325,000.

Adding to the unease in the midst of a burst of Christmas-related travel was the spread in Britain of new variants of the coronavirus. Britain’s top health official announced Wednesday that two cases of yet another new coronavirus variant were found in the country. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the new variant spreads more readily and was first detected last week by scientists in South Africa. The variant comes on top of a different permutation of the virus that has been triggering a rapid rise of cases in Britain and prompted travel restrictions, which have stymied the movement of cargo and passengers between that country and Europe.

Britain and France reached an agreement that would allow some passengers and all freight into France, as long as drivers provided negative test results for the virus. The military was managing testing sites where thousands of trucks have been stranded on the British side of the English Channel.

Britain, earlier this month, was the first country to begin administering doses of the…

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