Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said on Wednesday morning that the Trump administration may use the Defense Production Act (DPA) to ensure that the government can acquire enough vaccine doses to help stem the tide of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S.
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Azar, discussing the U.S. government's efforts to widely distribute a coronavirus vaccine, said that the U.S. was interested in buying 500 million additional doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine and that the government was waiting for the company to commit to a certain delivery date on those doses.
"We will use the Defense Production Act and any authorities and powers we need to ensure the American people get what they want and need," Azar said Wednesday in a "CBS This Morning" interview.
The DPA is a Korean War-era statute that allows the president to require companies to manufacture certain products to deal with a crisis, in order to "promote the national defense." President Trump invoked the DPA earlier this year as the U.S. was concerned about a shortage of ventilators for critically ill coronavirus patients.
The comments Wednesday come after the White House accused Pfizer of "negotiating in public" over the allocation of a coronavirus vaccine and trying to embarrass the U.S. government in an effort to gain market share over its vaccine competitors.
In October, after initial data that the Pfizer vaccine had shown efficacy, the U.S. government went back to the drugmaker to lock in 100 million doses from its option of 500 million. But officials said Pfizer then would not commit to a timeline for delivery of the additional doses. Officials said it wasn’t until last weekend that Pfizer gave the government a timeline, which they said was for some time in the second quarter of 2021.
"We are confident of procuring another 100 million doses on the timeline we are aiming for," Health and Human Services official Paul Mango told Fox News, referring to the second quarter of 2021. "If we feel at any point in time that we are being treated unfairly by any vaccine manufacturer in whom we have invested, the President and HHS Secretary will not hesitate to use every lever necessary to make sure the American people are treated equitably."
Also during the Wednesday interview, Azar said that by February, March and April the government should be able to begin vaccinating large segments of the U.S. population. He also defended the Trump administration's coronavirus vaccine plan as "minutely-detailed" in response to criticism from Biden transition member Celine Gounder, who said on CBS this week that the Biden team has not yet seen a "detailed plan."
"It's just not factually accurate," Azar said. "We're collaborating very closely with the Biden transition... This is the U.S. military that's leading this operation with these great powerhouses of the American private sector."
Azar further said that Moderna, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and others are nearing approval for their vaccines. He added that the U.S. has options in contracts to buy up to 3 billion vaccine doses from several companies, depending on when they are approved as safe.
The first Americans -- the most vulnerable medically and essential health care workers -- are expected to begin getting U.S.- approved vaccinations before Christmas.
Fox News' John Roberts and The Associated Press contributed to this report.