President Joe Biden will announce Tuesday that pharmaceutical company Merck will help manufacture the Covid-19 vaccine from Johnson & Johnson, a senior administrative official who has been confirmed to NBC News.
The decision is made as the administration is working to ramp up production of J & J’s single-shot vaccine. Senior government officials said Sunday the US government will ship J & J’s entire inventory of 3.9 million cans this week, adding that supply would be “uneven” over the following weeks. Another 16 million doses are expected by the end of the month.
Under the agreement, Merck will dedicate two facilities in the United States to J & J’s vaccine, according to NBC. One will make the vaccine and the other will provide “fill-finish” services when the vaccine is put into vials.
Officials began scouring the country for additional manufacturing capacity after discovering in the early days of the government that J&J had fallen behind in vaccine production, according to NBC. They soon sought a deal with Merck, which abandoned plans to develop its own Covid vaccine in January after a clinical study showed its shots were ineffective.
J&J declined to comment on the deal with CNBC. In a statement, Merck said it was “unwavering in our commitment to contribute to the global response to the pandemic and prepare us to deal with future pandemics”.
Biden is expected to make the announcement from the White House on Tuesday afternoon.
The Food and Drug Administration on Saturday approved J & J’s vaccine for use in people aged 18 and over. Unlike Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, patients with the single dose of J&J do not need to take a second dose and can be stored at refrigerator temperature for months.
In comparison, Pfizer’s vaccine must be stored in ultra-cold freezers that are between minus 112 and minus 76 degrees Fahrenheit. However, the FDA recently allowed the company to store its vaccine for two weeks at temperatures commonly found in pharmaceutical freezers. Moderna vaccine must be shipped at 13 to 5 degrees above zero Fahrenheit.
The New York Times first reported in January that unexpected delays in manufacturing would result in decreased primary care of J & J’s medication if it were given emergency approval.
The Chief Medical Officer of the White House, Dr. Anthony Fauci said last month he was “disappointed” with the number of doses J&J originally expected, adding that the federal government had assumed there would be “significantly more”. The New Jersey-based company has signed a contract with the United States to supply 100 million cans by the end of June.
“It can take June, July and August to get everyone vaccinated,” Fauci told CNN on February 16. I don’t think anyone will disagree that this will be good by the end of summer and we’ll get into early fall. “
At the time, Bidens Covid Tsar Jeff Zients said the federal government was “doing everything it can to work with the company to expedite the delivery schedule”.
This is not the first partnership between two drugmakers to help improve vaccine supply.
In late January, French drug maker Sanofi announced it would help fill and package millions of doses of Pfizer’s two-shot vaccine to meet demand. Moderna has a partnership with the Swiss company Lonza, which makes most of the medicines for the company’s vaccine.
The Biden government has also announced that it is using the Defense Equipment Act to improve supplies of Pfizer’s vaccine.