After a devastating milestone, COVID-19 vaccine makers pledge hundreds of millions of doses through July

Pfizer and Moderna have pledged to make a combined total of 220 million doses available for shipment by the end of March.


After COVID-19 took the lives of half a million victims in the U.S., the nation's top infectious disease expert said the mass tragedy was avoidable.

"It does ... pain me when I see things like pleading for people to do the kinds of things that you know work — the mask wearing, the physical separation — and the denial," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

It was "actually painful for me" to see hospitals overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, he said, and "in those same regions, there were people who were denying that this was going on, saying, 'Oh, it's fake news, it's a hoax.' I mean, how could you possibly say that when people in your own state, your own city, your own county, are dying?"

"Here we are today, looking at 500,000 Americans who've died thus far," Fauci said.

"That's the proof of what actually has been going on. You can't deny that."

The U.S. COVID-19 death toll is by far the highest of any country — and more than double that of Brazil's, which according to Johns Hopkins University data has the next highest number of virus-related fatalities.

Experts have said several factors contributed to an unnecessarily brutal pandemic, including a lack of clear messaging from the country's leadership, state and local leaders loosening restrictions too quickly, large holiday celebrations and continued resistance to wearing face masks or social distancing.

The race to vaccinate

The U.S. can expect to have a total of 240 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines by the end of March, according to prepared remarks from vaccine makers that will be given Tuesday to a House subcommittee.

Pfizer and Moderna — the two companies with COVID-19 vaccines authorized for emergency use in the U.S. — have pledged to make a combined total of 220 million doses available for shipment by the end of March.

That would be enough to vaccinate 110 million Americans, since both vaccines require two doses.

Johnson & Johnson, which has yet to receive an emergency use authorization for its COVID-19 vaccine, has pledged to make 20 million doses available in the same time frame. Its vaccine requires only one dose.

Pfizer said it expects to increase the number of doses available for shipment from about 4 million to 5 million doses per week at the beginning of February to more than 13 million doses per week by the middle of March.

"We are on track to make 120 million doses available for shipment by the end of March and an additional 80 million doses by the end of May. And, we anticipate all 300 million contracted doses will be made available for shipment by the end of July, enabling the vaccination of up to 150 million Americans," the company said in its prepared remarks.

Moderna, the other company with an authorized COVID-19 vaccine, said it's on track to deliver 100 million doses by the end of March and it plans to double monthly deliveries by April to more than 40 million doses per month.

"Based on this progress scaling up manufacturing, we recently agreed to move up our delivery timeline: we now are aiming to deliver a second hundred million doses by the end of May and a third hundred million doses by the end of July," Moderna said in its prepared remarks.

Two more COVID-19 vaccine makers that have not yet received emergency authorization have also laid out plans.

What the US needs to do now

Emergency physician Dr. Leana Wen said the milestone was a reminder of "all the lives that we could have saved." And now, she says she's worried about what could come.

"My biggest fear right now is complacency," Wen said.

While states across the country may be reporting encouraging trends, experts including Wen have cautioned now is absolutely not the time to let up — especially with coronavirus variants circulating.

"The best way for us to get back to normal is to double down right now, not to throw off our masks, not to eat indoors, not to do other things that we know can risk reigniting outbreaks," said Dr. Craig Spencer, director of global health in emergency medicine at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center.

"The majority of people in this country, despite previous infections and despite two months of vaccine, the majority of people still have no protection against COVID and can get infected," he told CNN. "This isn't over and we need to double down."

That means continuing to mask up, social distance, avoid crowded areas, regularly wash hands and practice the safety measures that have so far worked to curb the spread of infections.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said while numbers may be trending in the right direction, "cases, hospital admissions and deaths remain at very high levels."

New cases have declined steadily for five weeks, Walensky said Monday. But the U.S. continues to add tens of thousands of new infections daily. February alone has seen more than two million new COVID-19 cases.

Hospitalizations have plummeted since their Jan. 6 peak of more than 132,400 COVID-19 patients. But more than 55,400 people remain hospitalized with the virus, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

And every single day, hundreds of lives are lost to COVID-19. More than 1,300 deaths were reported Monday, according to Johns Hopkins data — and more than 52,000 have been reported this month.

"While the pandemic is heading in the right direction there is still much work to do," Walensky said.

Study: Smell and taste after COVID-19 may not return for months

And for many people who survived a bout with the disease, symptoms continue to linger.

In fact, Canadian researchers reported Monday that people's sense of smell and taste may not return for up to five months after becoming infected with coronavirus.

A team at the University of Quebec surveyed more than 800 healthcare workers who tested positive for the virus. They ranked their sense of smell and taste on a scale from zero to 10 and some were asked to perform an at-home test to further evaluate these senses.

During initial infection, more than 70% of those taking part in the survey reported losing their sense of smell and 65% reported losing their sense of taste, researchers said in preliminary results.

Five months later, when they used an at-home test, 17% of the participants said they still had loss of smell and 9% of people had persistent loss of taste.

"Our results show that an impaired sense of smell and taste may persist in a number of people with COVID-19," Dr. Johannes Frasnelli of the University of Quebec, who worked on the study, said in a statement.

"This emphasizes the importance of following up with people who have been infected, and need further research to discover the extent of neurological problems associated with COVID-19."

CDC announces emergency meeting of vaccine advisers

Meanwhile, as the U.S. races to get more shots into arms, another vaccine could soon get the green light for the U.S. market.

Johnson & Johnson announced earlier this month it had applied for an emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration for its one-dose COVID-19 vaccine.

On Friday, an FDA advisory group will discuss the company's application and data. Based on the adviser's guidance, the FDA may choose to give the vaccine the green light. Then, CDC advisers will discuss their own recommendations surrounding the vaccine's rollout, which will then have to be formally accepted by the CDC.

The CDC announced an emergency meeting of its vaccine advisers from Feb. 28 to March 1.

Meanwhile, Johnson & Johnson will testify Tuesday it can deliver enough doses by the end of March to vaccinate more than 20 million Americans — helping add to the country's existing supply.

So far, more than 44 million Americans have received at least their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, CDC data shows.

About 19.4 million have received both doses, the data shows. That's less than 6% of the U.S. population.