WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden will announce on Tuesday that Merck & Co. will help manufacture Johnson & Johnson’s single-injection coronavirus vaccine, a senior administration official confirmed to NBC News.
The deal could increase the supply of the vaccine, which is delivered to states this week after obtaining federal approval for distribution to the public.
The deal, first reported by the Washington Post, will cover two Merck facilities, one of which will produce the vaccine while the other will perform the final phase of the manufacturing process.
The deal between the two major pharmaceutical companies was negotiated by the Biden administration after officials discovered Johnson & Johnson had fallen behind in production of its vaccine, the Post reported.
Merck had attempted to produce its own vaccine, but announced in late January that it was halting development of its two candidate vaccines after initial clinical trial data showed a “lower” immune response.
Biden is expected to deliver remarks from the White House on Tuesday afternoon on the pandemic. He will also speak earlier today by phone to Senate Democrats as they prepare to vote this week on the Covid-19 relief package passed by the House.
The Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use authorization for Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine over the weekend, making it the third vaccine available to the public. The vaccines developed by Moderna and Pfizer are the other two in the pipeline, although these require two separate doses to be given three to four weeks apart.
Johnson & Johnson shipped 4 million doses of its vaccine on Monday, with an additional 16 million doses expected by the end of the month. Experts say it can be a game-changer, especially because it only requires a single dose and can be stored in regular refrigerators while the other two vaccines require ultra-cold storage conditions.
More than 15 percent of people in the United States have received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine so far, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky and other senior officials warned on Monday that states should not yet lift their restrictions on Covid-19. They said they feared the Covid business had stopped falling and that the relaxation of the rules could lead to another surge.