Vaccinations against Covid-19 may be accelerating in the United States, but the Biden administration’s intervention at a troubled plant that ruined millions of vaccine doses, along with the continuing threat of dangerous variants of the coronavirus, suggest that the road to defeating the virus is likely to take many unpredictable twists and turns.
Saturday marked the first time the country reported more than four million Covid-19 doses in a single day, bringing the average to higher than three million people for the first time, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
On the same day, the fallout continued over a debacle at a Baltimore contract plant that ruined 15 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The Biden administration put Johnson & Johnson in charge of the facility and moved to stop the facility from making another vaccine, developed by AstraZeneca, senior federal health officials said.
The move comes as Mr. Biden has aggressively pushed to produce enough vaccine doses to cover every American adult by the end of May. It will leave the Baltimore facility solely devoted to making the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine and is meant to avoid future mix-ups, according to two senior federal health officials. Johnson & Johnson confirmed the changes, saying it was “assuming full responsibility” for the vaccine made by Emergent BioSolutions, its manufacturing partner, which accidentally mixed up the ingredients from the two different vaccines.
Federal officials are worried that the mix-up will erode public confidence in the vaccines, just as there’s been a steady increase in the capacity of states to deliver shots into arms. In early March, the nation surpassed an average of two million doses administered each day, up from around 800,000 doses a day in mid-January. Nearly a third of the U.S. population has received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine as more states expand eligibility and production ramps up.
And while new virus cases, deaths and hospitalizations are far below their January peak, the average number of new reported cases has risen 19 percent over the past two weeks. Cases are increasing significantly in many states, particularly in the Midwest and the Northeast, as variants spread.
On the Sunday morning news shows, experts disagreed about whether regional spikes over the past two weeks amounted to a “fourth wave” of the virus.
On the NBC program “Meet the Press,” Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist who is a member of the Biden administration’s Covid-19 advisory board, predicted that the next two weeks will bring “the highest number of cases reported globally since the beginning of the pandemic.”
But on the CBS program “Face the Nation,” Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former head of the Food and Drug Administration under President Trump and who now is on the board of Pfizer, said he did not foresee a fourth wave.
“What we’re seeing is pockets of infection around the country,” he said, “particularly in younger…