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Drug execs face Capitol Hill questions on vaccine supply

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The top developers of U.S. COVID-19 vaccines are set to face questions from Congress about limited supplies of the shots needed to end the pandemic

WASHINGTON — Executives from the major COVID-19 vaccine producers are set to answer questions from Congress on Tuesday about expanding the supply of shots needed to curb the pandemic that has killed more than 500,000 Americans.

The Energy and Commerce Committee panel will hear from the five companies with contracts to supply COVID-19 shots to the U.S.: Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca and Novavax.

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The pharmaceutical executives are expected to face pointed questions about whether shortages of raw materials, manpower or funding are limiting the pace of manufacturing. Lawmakers are also expected to ask whether further use of the Defense Production Act — a Cold War-era law used to compel private-sector manufacturing — could help speed the process.

In written testimony released Monday, company executives did not describe shortages or other bottlenecks that have not already been addressed.

New Brunswick, N.J.-based J&J revealed in its testimony that it will be able to supply 20 million U.S. doses of its single-shot COVID-19 vaccine by the end of March, assuming it gets the green light from federal regulators. The company has promised to supply 100 million doses to the U.S. government by the end of June.

The company had previously released few details on its initial supplies, though White House officials cautioned last week that they would be limited.

J&J Vice President Richard Nettles plans to tell lawmakers the company faces “significant challenges” in scaling up its vaccine, due to its “highly complex” manufacturing process. Nettles states that the company remains on track to supply the promised U.S. doses and 1 billion globally by the end of 2021.

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The Food and Drug Administration is expected to grant emergency approval for J&J’s vaccine as soon as this weekend, providing the first one-shot option to protect against the virus.

Despite current constraints, federal health officials say the U.S. is on the cusp of a supply breakthrough, with hundreds of millions of additional vaccine doses slated for delivery between now and the end of June, slightly ahead of previous projections. That would be enough to deliver on the government’s goal to provide enough shots for nearly every American adult.

Even with no manufacturing or supply interruptions, other issues could delay or block the U.S. from vaccinating 70% to 80% of its population — the critical threshold needed to neutralize COVID-19 spread.

About 1 in 3 Americans say they definitely or probably will not get the vaccine, according to a recent poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Concerns about safety were the reason most frequently cited for vaccine hesitancy, despite few serious side effects reported with the currently available vaccines.

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Associated Press Writer Zeke Miller contributed to this story.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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