Sydney Lupkin

Two highly anticipated COVID-19 pills have been authorized for emergency use and allocated for shipment to states, but the supply is tight, and the rollout varies from state to state.

Moncef Slaoui, the former head of the Trump administration's Operation Warp Speed, says he's "cautiously optimistic" about how well existing vaccines will hold up against omicron, the latest coronavirus variant of concern.

Omicron has more mutations than previous variants, with around 30 mutations on just its spike protein.

That's worrying for virologists, who note that the spike protein is what vaccines use to "teach" our bodies to recognize the coronavirus.

Sudeep Taksali thought his battle to avoid a medication's steep price tag was over. He was wrong.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

It was 17 days before Pfizer's first delivery deadline under its federal COVID-19 vaccine contract, and the company wasn't going to meet it, according to federal records and several people familiar with the matter.

Officials with Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration's multibillion-dollar push to make a COVID-19 vaccine available in record time, didn't know there was a problem.

Health officials are preparing to roll out COVID-19 booster shots in the United States this September. According to a plan announced Wednesday, all U.S. adults who received a two-dose vaccine would be eligible for an additional jab of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine eight months from when they got their second one.

As Emergent BioSolution's Baltimore factory was throwing away unfinished COVID-19 vaccine doses and struggling to pass muster with the Food and Drug Administration, the company awarded at least $3 million in bonuses to a handful of executives, according to documents released by a congressional subcommittee Wednesday.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

There will be 86% fewer Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses allocated to states next week, new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show, highlighting the company's yo-yoing vaccine supply from week to week.

But next week's dip in supply isn't exactly the setback it appears to be.

Updated March 24, 2021 at 5:57 PM ET

Moncef Slaoui, who led the Trump administration's COVID-19 vaccine development efforts under Operation Warp Speed, has lost his job as chairman of the board at a medical device startup.

President Biden's promise that there will be enough vaccines for every U.S. adult by the end of May has some Americans wondering if it's too good to be true.

Time will tell.

But before the pharmaceutical companies can hit their May goal, they'll need to reach an earlier target: Pfizer and Moderna agreed to supply 100 million doses a piece to the U.S. by the end of March. With just under three weeks left, both companies have their work cut out for them.

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Pharmaceutical giants Merck and Johnson & Johnson are normally competitors, but the Biden administration announced today that Merck will help make Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine, which was authorized by the FDA over the weekend.

With two COVID-19 vaccines available in the United States and more on the way, things are starting to look up. But virus mutations being detected around the world mean the vaccines may one day need updates to ensure they stay effective.

The Food and Drug Administration is already working on a playbook for how it could greenlight vaccine changes.

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.

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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