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COVID mutations, slow vaccine production could slow return to normal life: Biden

President Biden on Friday said life may not return to normal in 2021 due to COVID-19 mutations and possible interruptions in US vaccine production.

Biden said at a Pfizer vaccine factory in Portage, Mich., that mutations of the virus and unforeseen vaccine production blips could extend the pandemic’s social and economic fallout.

“I believe we’ll be approaching normalcy by the end of this year. God willing, this Christmas will be different than last. But I can’t make that commitment to you. There are other strains of the virus. We don’t know what could happen in terms of production rates. Things can change,” Biden said.

The president spoke amid widespread optimism about life returning to normal as rates of infection plummet and vulnerable groups of people are vaccinated.

He noted that some vaccine shipments were delayed by a snowstorm this week.

Biden said in Michigan that in the meantime, “I think it’s critically important to get our kids back to school.” He has faced criticism for not doing more to pressure reluctant teachers’ unions to do so.

President Joe Biden speaks after a tour of a Pfizer manufacturing site, Friday, Feb. 19, 2021, in Portage, Mich.
President Joe Biden speaks after a tour of a Pfizer manufacturing site in Portage, Michigan, on Feb. 19, 2021.
AP Photo/Evan Vucci

According to Bloomberg News analysis of public data, the US has injected more than 59 million vaccine doses — or 17.8 doses per 100 people.

The two US-approved vaccines, from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, require two shots but are 95 percent and 94.1 percent effective. The two vaccines are being administered to people at a rate of 1.58 million doses per day, which should allow the US to secure herd immunity this summer.

A single-shot vaccine produced by Johnson & Johnson, which is at least 66 percent effective, is expected to further accelerate the vaccination timeline when it is approved by the Food and Drug Administration as early as this month.

Preliminary research indicates vaccines are less effective against emerging and more contagious COVID-19 variations.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, for example, is 66 percent effective worldwide, but 72 percent effective in the US, where there is less prevalence of mutations that emerged in the UK, Brazil and South Africa.

A different vaccine in development by Novavax is 60 percent effective in South Africa. In the UK, the same vaccine was 95.6 percent effective against the original variant and 85.6 percent effective against the UK variant.

Biden’s chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci said Friday that the new variations of the virus mean the government and companies will “have to be nimble to adjust readily to make versions of the vaccine specifically directed towards whatever mutation is prevalent.”


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