Sydney Lupkin

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

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.

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.

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.

Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine is expected to become the second to get the Food and Drug Administration's green light. A decision could come within days.

But compared with pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, which was granted emergency use authorization last week, upstart Moderna doesn't have a track record when it comes to mass production.

With Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine poised for Food and Drug Administration authorization for emergency use, there's speculation about when the United States will buy another batch of doses — and whether the Trump administration already missed its chance.

While the country was focused on the outcome of the election Saturday, the Department of Health and Human Services released a trove of new Operation Warp Speed documents.

The newly released contracts include the crash program's $1 billion agreement with Johnson & Johnson, which was issued through a third-party firm and lacks some customary protections against potential future price-gouging.

The Department of Health and Human Services has released the contract of pharmaceutical industry veteran Moncef Slaoui, a key adviser to Operation Warp Speed, after questions from the press, members of Congress and advocacy groups.

Operation Warp Speed is the Trump administration's multibillion-dollar push to develop and manufacture hundreds of millions of doses of coronavirus vaccine. Slaoui has been instrumental in guiding the effort, but the terms of his employment raised concerns about potential conflicts of interest.

Even as the companies enlisted by the government's Operation Warp Speed project to develop COVID-19 vaccines say they're making quick progress, details of their lucrative federal contracts have been slow to emerge.

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