Sydney Lupkin | KUNR

Sydney Lupkin

President Biden said last Tuesday that his administration is already working on ordering more COVID-19 vaccine doses to increase the U.S. supply through this summer. But before that can happen, Pfizer and Moderna have to fulfill their commitments under their original federal supply contracts.

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With a spotlight on COVID-19 vaccine distribution shortcomings, there's another bottleneck that could prevent inoculations from significantly speeding up in the near future: Pfizer's and Moderna's ability to scale up manufacturing and deliver doses to the U.S. government.

The companies promised to deliver 100 million doses apiece to the United States by the end of March. But they'll need to make huge leaps in a short time to meet that goal.

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Families banding together in shifts to try and get appointments, clogged phone lines and glitchy Web portals - the vaccine rollout in America has been a mess so far. All that as we're seeing a staggering rise in infections and after almost 400,000 Americans have died of COVID-19. And now we're learning that a federal deal to increase vaccine manufacturing has an unusual clause that could allow certain people to cut the line. NPR pharmaceuticals correspondent Sydney Lupkin is here to tell us about it. Good morning.

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Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine is expected to become the second to get the Food and Drug Administration's green light. A decision could come within days.

But compared with pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, which was granted emergency use authorization last week, upstart Moderna doesn't have a track record when it comes to mass production.

With Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine poised for Food and Drug Administration authorization for emergency use, there's speculation about when the United States will buy another batch of doses — and whether the Trump administration already missed its chance.

While the country was focused on the outcome of the election Saturday, the Department of Health and Human Services released a trove of new Operation Warp Speed documents.

The newly released contracts include the crash program's $1 billion agreement with Johnson & Johnson, which was issued through a third-party firm and lacks some customary protections against potential future price-gouging.

The Department of Health and Human Services has released the contract of pharmaceutical industry veteran Moncef Slaoui, a key adviser to Operation Warp Speed, after questions from the press, members of Congress and advocacy groups.

Operation Warp Speed is the Trump administration's multibillion-dollar push to develop and manufacture hundreds of millions of doses of coronavirus vaccine. Slaoui has been instrumental in guiding the effort, but the terms of his employment raised concerns about potential conflicts of interest.

Even as the companies enlisted by the government's Operation Warp Speed project to develop COVID-19 vaccines say they're making quick progress, details of their lucrative federal contracts have been slow to emerge.

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Members of Congress, advocacy groups and a former administration official say Operation Warp Speed should release its vaccine contracts with pharmaceutical companies, following an NPR report that the Trump administration awarded billions of dollars through a third party, bypassing the usual contracting process.

The Trump administration has compared Operation Warp Speed's crash program to develop a COVID-19 vaccine to the Manhattan Project. And like the notoriously secretive government project to make the first atomic bomb, the details of Operation Warp Speed's work may take a long time to unravel.

President Trump promised this week to send cards worth $200 to seniors to help them pay for their prescription drugs, but it's unclear how he will be able to pull it off — or how legal it is.

If he can, that's $6.6 billion to a key voting bloc weeks before Election Day.

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By the second week in July, COVID-19 cases in North Carolina were climbing fast.

With nearly 19,000 diagnoses over the previous two weeks, only five states recorded more new coronavirus cases than North Carolina did.

"Today is our highest day of hospitalizations and our second-highest day of cases," Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, announced on July 9, standing behind a podium in the state's Emergency Operations Center. "Please continue to treat the virus like the deadly threat that it is."

How much will vaccines against the coronavirus cost? Even though none has finished clinical testing, some clues about pricing are starting to emerge.

Cambridge, Mass.-based Moderna, one of the leading horses in the vaccine race, has already made deals at between $32 and $37 per dose of its experimental coronavirus vaccine in agreements with some foreign countries, rattling consumer advocates, who fear an unfair deal for U.S. taxpayers.

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