Amid Criticism, White House Says It Will Invest $2.7 Billion in Vaccine Production

The White House, under pressure to do more to address the global coronavirus pandemic, said Thursday that it will invest $2.7 billion to ramp up domestic production of critical vaccine components as part of President Biden’s push to make the United States the “arsenal of vaccines for the world.”

The money will go to firms doing business in the United States that make supplies necessary for vaccine production, including lipids, bioreactor bags, tubing, needles and syringes, officials said. It will come from funds appropriated by Congress through the American Rescue Plan, the $1.9 trillion economic stimulus package Mr. Biden signed into law in March.

“This new investment will further expand domestic vaccine manufacturing capacity, helping the U.S. deliver on its commitment to be the arsenal of vaccines for the world and preparing America for future vaccination efforts,” said Jeffrey D. Zients, Mr. Biden’s coronavirus response coordinator, who announced the effort during a briefing with reporters.

Details, however, were scant. The Department of Health and Human Services is in the “final stages” of awarding contracts for the work, and will make announcements in the coming weeks, according to a White House official who was not authorized to speak publicly about the investment. Neither the official or Mr. Zients could provide an estimate of how many doses the investment would yield.

But Mr. Zients said that investing in the supply chain would also “create thousands of good paying American jobs.”

Mr. Biden has already either donated or pledged about 600 million vaccine doses to other countries — a small fraction of the 11 billion that experts say are needed to slow the spread of the virus worldwide. His administration has also taken steps to expand coronavirus vaccine manufacturing in the United States and India, and is supporting production in South Africa and Senegal to expand access to locally produced vaccines in Africa.

But the president has come under increasing criticism in recent weeks from global health advocates and experts who say he is nowhere near fulfilling his “arsenal” promise. Their outrage grew after the administration announced last month that it was recommending booster doses for all Americans — even before the Food and Drug Administration has had a chance to weigh in on whether such doses are necessary.

Worldwide, 81 percent of shots that have been administered have been in high- and upper-middle-income countries, according to the Our World in Data project at the University of Oxford. Only 0.4 percent of doses have been administered in low-income countries.

Activists have been calling for the Biden administration to ramp up vaccine manufacturing around the world as well as in the United States. They also want the administration to press major vaccine makers to share their recipes and technical know-how with other companies — a process known as “tech transfer,” which Thursday’s announcement did not address.

“Major investments in urgent vaccine manufacturing are desperately needed, and after today’s announcement, still far more is needed to make the billions of doses lacking to end the pandemic,” said Peter Maybarduk of the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, which has proposed a $25 billion investment to retrofit manufacturing facilities around the world, with the goal of making 8 billion doses of mRNA vaccine in one year.

Congress put a total of $16.05 billion in the American Rescue Plan this year, in two separate tranches, that could be used to procure and manufacture treatments, vaccines and tools for ending the pandemic. But in an analysis released last week, the AIDS advocacy group PrEP4All found that all told, the administration had spent $145 million — just $12 million of it from the American Rescue Plan — to expand vaccine manufacturing.

James Krellenstein, a founder of PrEP4All and the author of the analysis, said Thursday that the $2.7 billion “does seem like a very significant investment” in the vaccine supply chain. But he questioned whether there is adequate capacity to make “drug substance” — the core ingredients of the vaccines — and whether the fresh investment would actually spur major vaccine manufacturers like Pfizer and Moderna to make more doses.

“It’s kind of like there is a massive cake shortage right now, and instead of making more bakeries, we are making more flour and assuming more cakes will be baked,” he said. “The question I have is, ‘Does the Biden administration have any plans to make more bakeries?’”

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