Enlarge /. U.S. President Joe Biden comments on the government pandemic, including the recently announced partnership between Johnson & Johnson and Merck to manufacture more Johnson & Johnson vaccines, while U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris (L) looks at the White House in Washington, DC on March 2, 2021.
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With a White House brokered deal, vaccine giant Merck has agreed to help Johnson & Johnson increase its COVID-19 vaccine production, which is far behind in its manufacturing schedule.
President Joe Biden announced today that the country is on track with the new deal to have enough COVID-19 vaccine doses to vaccinate every adult in the country by the end of May – two months ahead of previous plans.
"About three weeks ago we were able to say that we would have enough adult vaccines by the end of July," the president said in an afternoon address. "And I am pleased to announce that this country will have enough vaccines for every adult in America as a result of the step-up process I have ordered and just described – I'll say it again in late May. Until end of May. This is progress – important progress. "
Merck – a powerhouse in vaccine production responsible for the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine, among other things – will use two US facilities to manufacture Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine. One facility produces the vaccine and the other provides bottling and end-of-line services, where the vaccine is divided into vials and packaged. Merck's help could double J & J's production.
In his address on Tuesday, Biden noted that his government relied on the Defense Production Act to “equip the two facilities with the standards necessary to safely manufacture the J&J vaccine”.
At an earlier press conference, White House press secretary Jen Psaki suggested that the appeal to the DPA would help seal a deal between the two companies that had previously been in talks. "There is a difference between talking and developing – and applying the Defense Production Act," said Psaki. "So I'm just reporting what got it over the finish line."
In a $ 1 billion contract signed last year, J&J pledged to provide 37 million cans to the federal government by the end of March and 100 million cans by the end of June. More recently, however, the company announced that it could only deliver 20 million doses by the end of the month, much of it in the past few weeks.
The vaccine – an adenovirus-based non-replicating vaccine – received emergency clearance from the Food and Drug Administration last weekend.
Merck had been working on its own COVID-19 vaccine. However, in late January, the company announced it was halting development after results from a Phase I study indicated the shot produced weaker immune responses than it did after natural infections.
Merck is just the latest example of a large pharmaceutical company helping rivals in their efforts to mass-produce COVID-19 vaccines. Sanofi – another of the world's leading vaccine manufacturers – and the Swiss drug manufacturer Novartis each announced contracts in January to manufacture the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech. Sanofi has also announced that it will assist with J & J's vaccine production in Europe.
Although the increased supplies will aid the global vaccination effort, getting gun shots requires much more and is unlikely to vaccinate all American adults by the end of May. Biden noted the government's efforts to recruit more vaccines and set up more immunization sites. He also said he would instruct states to give priority to vaccination teachers in order to expedite the reopening of the school.