Visiting a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing site Friday, President Joe Biden saw firsthand the efforts to ramp up manufacturing, but also acknowledged he can't predict exactly when life will return to normal.
The site is a critical hub for manufacturing the vaccine, the White House said, and the trip was designed to highlight Biden's efforts to increase manufacturing capacity and maximize distribution efficiency.
During a tour of the site, Biden was shown two new assembly lines that will be able to produce 700,000 doses of the vaccine per day, starting some time next week, according to a Pfizer engineer. Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla praised the Biden administration's efforts to expedite manufacturing, and shared that the president challenged him to beat the late-July delivery date for the U.S.'s entire 300 million dose order of the Pfizer vaccine.
"Mr. President, the challenge is accepted, and we will try to do our best," Bourla said.
Bourla said the company has been able to shrink the manufacturing timeline on a dose of vaccine from 110 days to 60 days, and two weeks from now will be making more than 100 million doses per week, up from the 50 million per week initial capacity. Bourla was effusive in his praise for Biden, saying the administration has been "a great ally" in helping the company obtain necessary materials.
En route to Michigan, White House press secretary Jen Psaki announced that the Biden administration has used the Defense Production Act to obtain lipids, bags and filters Pfizer needs to manufacture the vaccine. It was the first time the administration has specified how the invocation of the DPA has aided the mass vaccine manufacturing effort.
"The administration engaged with Pfizer suppliers to obtain the equipment needed to expand manufacturing capacity, including at the facility in Kalamazoo," Psaki said aboard Air Force One.
Despite the progress, Biden acknowledged it could take months before the effects of the pandemic really change.
"I believe we'll be approaching normalcy by the end of this year, and God willing, this Christmas will be different than last, but I can't make that commitment to you," he said.
Biden also urged Americans not to be hesitant when it comes to the vaccine, addressing what will certainly be a major struggle for his administration.
"If there's one message to cut through to everyone in the country, it's this: The vaccines are safe. Please, for yourself, your family, your community, this country, take the vaccine when it's your turn and available. That's how to beat this pandemic," Biden said.
Biden stressed the importance of ensuring countries around the world have access to vaccines during his remarks in Michigan, criticizing his predecessor's tendency to take an "America first" approach to international relations.
"There needs to be cures that the world is able to take part of, because you can't build a wall or fence high enough to keep a pandemic out," Biden said.
In the domestic effort to get the virus under control, Biden again made his case directly to the American people for his massive COVID-19 relief bill, which would deliver direct relief payments to the majority of people in the U.S. and allocate billions of dollars for reopening schools and increasing vaccinations across the country.
"Now, critics say my plan is too big, that it costs $1.9 trillion, so that's too much. Let me ask them: What would they have me cut? What would they have me leave out? Should we not invest $20 billion to vaccinate the nation? Should we not invest $290 million to extend unemployment insurance for the 11 million Americans who are unemployed so they can get by while they get back to work?" Biden said during his remarks in Kalamazoo.
Democrats are continuing to advance the legislation in Congress through reconciliation, looking to pass the bill ahead of the looming mid-March expiration date for extended unemployment benefits included in the previous COVID-19 relief bill.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House hopes to pass its version of the legislation next week to send the bill to the Senate. Biden has stressed his desire to pass the legislation with bipartisan support, but said he isn't willing to delay delivering relief to the American people to do so.
Balking at the price tag, no Republicans in Congress have signed on to the nearly $2 trillion bill yet.
White House advisers have argued that while bipartisan support in Congress continues to lag, support from across the political spectrum does exist for the bill. A new poll from Quinnipiac University shows 68% of Americans support passing the legislation, including 37% of Republican voters.
While internal discussions about the next steps in Biden's agenda have begun, Psaki made it clear in her briefing Thursday that COVID-19 relief would remain the top priority of the White House until it's passed.
"I would not expect the president or any of us to lay out next pieces of his agenda until that package is through and signed and that release is out, going out to the public," Psaki said.