Biden to tour Pfizer vaccine facility in Portage next week

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — The White House said President Joe Biden will visit Michigan on Thursday and tour the Pfizer manufacturing facility in Portage that's making doses of the company's COVID-19 vaccine, the White House said.

The trip will mark Biden's first trip to Michigan as president, as the Delaware Democrat works to speed up distribution of the vaccine and push his $1.9 trillion recovery plan through Congress.

President Joe Biden speaks during a visit at the Viral Pathogenesis Laboratory at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021, in Bethesda, Md. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and NIH Director Francis Collins listen.

Biden said Thursday while touring the National Institutes of Health that the government had signed final contracts to purchase 200 million more doses of the coronavirus vaccine, including an additional 100 million doses each of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, and move up the delivery dates to the end of July.

"We need more people to get vaccinated to beat this pandemic," Biden said.

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He added that since he took office, his administration has increased the supply of weekly vaccine shipments to states by almost 30%. 

"That means millions more Americans will get vaccinated in February than the previous administration was on track to do," Biden said. 

Biden last visited Michigan the weekend before the Nov. 3 election, when he made stops in Flint and Detroit, where he was joined by former President Barack Obama. Biden won the state over former President Donald Trump 51% to 48%. 

The news of Biden's visit to Pfizer comes about a week after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer toured the company's manufacturing campus, from which it shipped the first doses of its vaccine in late December. The facility employs about 3,000 people.

The Food and Drug Administration in December granted emergency authorization for the Pfizer vaccine, a day after an FDA advisory committee recommended it for approval. Since then, the state of Michigan has administered over 1 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccines, officials say.

The Portage facility where the vaccine is manufactured is running three shifts, nonstop, weekends and holidays included. The company has added suppliers since December improved production lines and doubled batch sizes, a spokesman said.

State Sen. Sean McCann, D-Kalamazoo, represents Portage in the Michigan Senate. He said Biden’s visit is a “great acknowledgement of what’s happening in Michigan.” There’s a deep legacy of pharmaceutical innovation in the region, McCann said.

“It all sounds great,” he said of developments with the COVID-19 vaccine. “It’s all coming out of Portage, Michigan.”

Biden on Friday met with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan at the White House among a bipartisan group of governors and mayors discussing the urgency of adopting Biden's economic stimulus plan, which could provide over $10 billion in state and local aid for Michigan if approved. 

The aid package would devote $20 billion to a national vaccination program that intends to vaccinate 100 million people in his first 100 days in office and $50 billion for regular testing to help schools reopen. 

A banner is seen at the Pfizer plant thanking employees for their service and the vaccine they are creating in Portage on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021.

Duggan said he used the opportunity Friday to press for a larger weekly allocation of the COVID-19 vaccines for the city to ramp up from 15,000 vaccines per week to 25,000. 

"I raised that with the president today, and I think they are doing everything they possibly can," Duggan said. "I know they shared numbers with us, by April, that will look good. We're certainly hoping before the end of February it picks up."

Duggan's meeting with Biden lasted over an hour. In the Oval Office, Biden told the group of state and local leaders that the most important part of his plan is the need to give states enough vaccine capacity to combat COVID-19. 

Biden noted that some governors and mayors have found, like he did, that what they thought was available in terms of vaccine supply wasn't there. He thanked the leaders for their work in responding to the crisis.

Staff writers Craig Mauger and Neal Rubin contributed.