DETROIT – The White House has postponed President Joe Biden’s scheduled trip to Michigan, delaying his tour of a Pfizer facility in Portage until Friday, according to sources familiar with the visit.
Inclement weather is expected in the Washington, D.C., area on Thursday; the National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning and predicts 3 to 6 inches of snow.
The visit underscores the importance of COVID-19 vaccines to the state, country and Biden’s tenure: the safe and quick distribution of effective vaccines means a potential return to normalcy and all of the corresponding economic and societal impacts that entails.
Here’s what we know about the trip:
What’s the purpose of the visit?
While the White House had yet to release specific details on the event as of Wednesday afternoon, the president typically takes a few questions from the media during such visits. It’s unclear whether the president will announce any new policy or plan during the trip.
Biden continues to call on Congress to pass his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 plan that includes additional funding for vaccinations along with $1,400 stimulus checks for people who earn below a certain income threshold.
When will Biden be in Portage?
We do not know for sure. FAA records had indicated he’d visit the facility some time Thursday afternoon. The timing of his trip Friday is unknown. The trip is his second to the Midwest this week, following a CNN townhall on Tuesday in Milwaukee.
Why this facility in Michigan?
Pfizer, which teamed up with German-based biotechnology company BioNTech, created one of the two coronavirus vaccines now approved for emergency use in the United States. The company is manufacturing the vaccine at its plant in Portage, as well as sites in Chesterfield, Missouri, and Andover, Massachusetts.
The southwestern Michigan plant, located just south of Kalamazoo, is the company’s biggest manufacturing site, comprising 1,300 acres. It is where the company finishes producing its COVID-19 vaccine, fills the vials and prepares them for shipment.
Pfizer, which is headquartered in New York, invested more than $150 million in capital to advance its COVID-19 vaccine program at the site and hired 400 additional workers for the plant whose jobs are focused on coronavirus vaccine production, inspection and packaging.
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Chaz Calitri, the company’s vice president of sterile injectables, told the Free Press in an interview in 2020 that the $150 million investment was used to build high-speed vial-filling lines at the plant to allow Pfizer to mass-produce the vaccine.
“We’re going fast and furious to scale up,” Calitri said. “We have depth of technical knowledge and experience here, which is one of the reasons why Kalamazoo is one of the key manufacturing sites.”
Calitri told USA Today for a story published Feb. 7 that the company is on track to cut the amount of time it takes to make a batch of vaccine in half — from 110 days to 60 days as it continues to streamline production.
Since December, 28.4 million doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine have been injected into the arms of Americans, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Will Gov. Gretchen Whitmer join him?
When asked during a Wednesday news conference, the governor was vague on whether she planned to join the president.
“There aren’t a lot of details to share officially about the president’s visit tomorrow, but I’m really glad that he’s coming,” Whitmer said.
“We’ve got a good relationship, so I anticipate that as I learn more we’ll be able to share that with you.”
She said one of the state’s proudest moments last year was watching trucks full of vaccine leaving the Pfizer facility.
“The partnership that we have had with the Biden administration is refreshing. I am just glad that the president is prioritizing vaccine rollouts, the purchase of and dissemination of vaccines, ramping it up every single week since he’s taken office and for the foreseeable future,” Whitmer said.
Contact Dave Boucher at [email protected] or 313-938-4591. Follow him on Twitter @Dave_Boucher1.