WASHINGTON - The U.S. Department of Defense has awarded Moderna a multi-billion dollar contract to produce 200 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine by March 2022.
Defense officials announced the effort Monday, saying the contract will give $3.3 billion to the pharmaceutical company. Production work will take place in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The news comes as health officials try to get more Americans vaccinated amid concerns that the more dangerous and more deadly delta COVID-19 variant could become the dominant strain by the fall and lead to more cases and hospitalizations.
The pace of COVID-19 vaccinations in the U.S. has slowed in recent weeks, pushing President Joe Biden’s goal of having 70% of adult Americans receive their first dose by July 4 further out of reach.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 65.4% of Americans 18 years and older have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
CDC data shows the country is averaging fewer than 1 million shots per day. That’s far below April’s peak when the country was averaging more than 3 million shots a day.
Health officials said the Pfizer-BioNTech and the Moderna vaccines are proving effective against the delta variant.
There’s also debate within the medical community if vaccinated Americans would need a booster shot in the coming months.
Scientists have found clues that the world’s leading COVID-19 vaccines offer lasting protection that could diminish the need for frequent booster shots, but they caution that more research is needed and that virus’ mutations are still a wild card.
Other experts say boosters may be needed only every few years.
"I would be surprised if we actually needed a yearly booster shot," said Dr. Paul Offit, a vaccine specialist at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia who advises the Food and Drug Administration.
Antibodies that form after vaccination or natural infection do wane naturally, but there’s evidence that those levels remain strong for at least six to nine months after mRNA vaccination and possibly longer. They also appear effective against worrisome virus mutants, at least for now.
But the increase in COVID-19 vaccine production could prove to be futile as vaccine hesitancy remains a problem.
A recent Gallup poll showed that 78% of unvaccinated Americans say they don’t plan to ever get the shot.
The CDC says more than 150 million Americans have been fully vaccinated, representing 45.2% of the country’s total population.
Dangling everything from sports tickets to a free beer, Biden is looking for that extra something — anything — that will get people to roll up their sleeves for COVID-19 shots.
Additionally, the White House is partnering with early childhood centers such as KinderCare, Learning Care Group, Bright Horizons and more than 500 YMCAs to provide free childcare coverage for Americans looking for shots or needing assistance while recovering from side effects.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.