SEATTLE - In the early months of the pandemic that has now infected millions of Americans, Washington’s governor repeatedly asked the president to invoke the Defense Production Act for personal protective equipment and testing supplies, with little success.
But on Tuesday President Donald Trump threatened to invoke that exact executive authority to ensure Americans received COVID-19 vaccines before other countries after the White House pushed back on reports the administration had the opportunity to lock in more life-saving doses — and passed.
The White House initially purchased 100 million doses of Pfizer’s unproven vaccine over the summer, in addition to contracting with other companies racing to create a vaccine. But reports have come out this week that the Trump administration passed after Pfizer offered the U.S. hundreds of millions of more doses. Pfizer has now said those additional doses have been promised to other nations.
Pfizer is first in line for emergency approval by the Food and Drug Administration. An advisory committee meets Thursday to review the vaccine. If approved, Washington state stands to receive 62,000 doses next week and 222,000 doses total before the end of the year.
The White House denies reports it turned down Pfizer’s offer for more and the president said Tuesday that Americans will be prioritized over other countries to receive U.S.-made vaccines, even if he has to use his executive authority to do it.
“We have worked very well with the companies, but if for any reason we have any problems, we will be instituting the Defense Production Act, and we will make sure that we don't have any problems for very long,” Trump said.
The Defense Production Act is a presidential authority that can force private companies to prioritize federal orders. When Washington was first dealing with the deadly virus, Gov. Jay Inslee on multiple occasions brought up the executive power and asked the president to wield it to address PPE and testing shortages.
Trump sparingly did for PPE but is threatening the full effect for vaccines, which Inslee said left him feeling “flabbergasted” and astounded when asked by Q13 News.
“We begged him to use this for months to get PPE for our nurses, to get swabs to increase testing, and he told us to go fish,” Inslee said. “And now he says he’s going to come to the party and act? I just have to express, more than amazement, but enormous disappointment in his total lack of responsibility.”
As the White House continues to answer questions over purchasing, local hospitals are preparing to get that first shipment in the next week. The first doses will go to frontline health care workers.
A week from Thursday, the FDA is set to review Moderna’s application. If approved, Washington state is set to receive 400,000 total doses between the Moderna and Pfizer by the end of 2020.
Alex Azar, the secretary of Health and Human Services, said Wednesday the administration expects to have enough doses nationwide to vaccinate 20 million Americans in 2020, reaching 50 million total by the end of January.
“We remain confident that across our portfolio of multiple vaccines, we will have enough doses for any American who wants a vaccine by the end of the second quarter of 2021,” Azar said.
A poll released Wednesday from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research showed that only about half of Americans are sure they will get a COVID-19 vaccine when it’s their turn. A quarter of respondents were unsure and another quarter said they won’t. Health experts estimate at least 70 percent of the U.S. population needs to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity.
The coronavirus has killed nearly 290,000 Americans so far. More than 15 million Americans have had confirmed cases.