Biden: Michigan workers helping build 'arsenal of vaccines' to defeat COVID-19

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday said Michigan workers involved in creating the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine will help the nation become "the arsenal of vaccines," comparing the drive to the manufacturing might of Detroit in building tanks and planes during World War II.

"... The plan is for a half a billion doses that we'll be sending around the world to be produced in the United States, including at Pfizer’s manufacturing plant in Kalamazoo, Michigan," Biden said during an appearance in the United Kingdom.

President Joe Biden tours a Pfizer manufacturing site, Friday, Feb. 19, 2021, in Portage. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Jeff Zients, White House coronavirus response coordinator, and Albert Bourla, Pfizer CEO look on.

The president, who was amid his first international trip since being inaugurated in January, appeared with Pfizer CEO and chairman Albert Bourla. Biden was preparing for the summit of the Group of Seven leaders in the U.K.

He announced the U.S. commitment to buy and donate 500 million Pfizer doses for distribution through the global COVAX alliance to 92 lower-income countries and the African Union.

That comes on top of 80 million doses he has already pledged by the end of the month.

"Just as the American economy is recovering, it is in all of our interests to have the global economy begin to recover as well. And that won’t happen unless we can get the pandemic under control worldwide. That's why, as I said in my address to the joint session of Congress in April, America will be the arsenal of vaccines in our fight against COVID — COVID-19, just as America was the arsenal of democracy during World War Two," Biden said Thursday.

"Eighty years ago, not too far from that plant in Kalamazoo in the Detroit area, American workers built tanks and planes and vehicles that helped defeat the global threat of fascism in World War Two.  They built what became known as the “arsenal of democracy."

Biden said a new generation of men and women, working with the latest technology, will "defeat the current enemy of world peace, health, and stability: COVID-19."

Biden noted he joined Bourla for a tour of the western Michigan plant in February.

"It’s incredible the ingenuity, the care, the safety that goes into every single dose as I toured the entire plant," the president said. 

"Most of all, when you're there, you feel the pride every worker there feels, how — the pride they feel in what they are doing. I've been to a lot of plants. I have worked — I'm a big union guy.  I've been doing it my whole career. But you could see the looks on their faces; they were proud. I mean it sincerely, they were proud of what they were doing.  They knew what they were doing."

The plant was where the first shipments of the Pfizer vaccine, the first to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration, were sent to distribution centers across the country in December. 

Biden went on to say that "American workers will now produce vaccines to save lives of people in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean. People they will never meet and have never met in places they've never visited and probably won't have an opportunity to, but lives saved all the same thanks to American leadership and American workers' hard work and values."

 The U.S. is now set to be COVAX’s largest vaccine donor in addition to its single largest funder with a $4 billion commitment.

The global alliance has thus far distributed just 81 million doses, and parts of the world, particularly in Africa, remain vaccine deserts.

White House officials said the 500 million vaccines will be shipped starting in August, with the goal of distributing 200 million by the end of the year. The remaining 300 million doses would be shipped in the first half of 2022.

During his appearance with Biden Thursday, Bourla said the 500 million vaccines "will significantly enhance our ability to meet our goal of providing 2 billion doses of the vaccine to low- and middle-income countries over the next 18 months. Thanks to the ingenuity of so many scientists and the dedication of so many manufacturing workers, today we can see clearly the light at the end of the tunnel."

Through Thursday, the World Health Organization website reported 174,061,995 confirmed cases of COVID-19 globally, including 3,758,560 deaths. The group reported more than 2.1 billion vaccine doses had been administered.

In Michigan, 59.9% of residents ages 16 and up, or about 4.84 million people, had received at least one dose through Thursday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.