Biden Says US Will Have Enough COVID-19 Vaccines for Every Adult By End of May

March 3, 2021
Aislinn Antrim, Assistant Editor

President Joseph Biden announced a partnership between Merck and Johnson & Johnson, in which 2 of Merck’s facilities will begin producing the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine.

In a press briefing Tuesday afternoon, President Joseph Biden said new developments in COVID-19 vaccine production will provide enough vaccine doses for every adult in the United States by the end of May, 2 months earlier than originally predicted.1 As part of this acceleration, in a deal brokered by the Biden administration, Merck will begin manufacturing Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine in an effort to ramp up production.1

“Today, we’re announcing a major step forward,” Biden said in the press conference. “Two of the largest health care and pharmaceutical companies in the world, that are usually competitors, are working together on the vaccine.”1

Biden described this as the type of collaboration seen during World War II, which is in line with his descriptions of the COVID-19 response as a “wartime effort.” He also announced that the Johnson & Johnson facilities will begin operating around the clock and some critical materials and machinery will be expedited through the Defense Production Act.1

According to reporting by The Washington Post, White House officials began looking for additional manufacturing capacity early in the administration, after realizing that Johnson & Johnson had fallen behind in vaccine production. As one of the world’s largest vaccine manufacturers, Merck offered an opportunity to significantly increase supply.2

As part of the deal, Merck will dedicate 2 of its United States facilities to producing Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine. One facility will provide “full-finish” services, the last stage of the process during which the vaccine itself is placed in vials and packaged.2 The other will produce the vaccine itself and could perhaps even double the amount that Johnson & Johnson could produce on its own, according to the Post.2

Despite the encouraging plan, officials cautioned that it could easily take 2 months to get the “full-finish” plant ready and a few more months to equip the second plant.2

In addition to increasing vaccine supply, Biden emphasized the need for vaccinators. As part of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, he said the administration has sent millions of vaccines to more pharmacies across the country.1

“We’ve sent millions of vaccines to over 7000 pharmacies to make it easier for folks to get their COVID-19 vaccination shot like they would their flu shot,” Biden said.1

Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine was awarded an emergency use authorization on February 27, based on an FDA analysis that found the single-shot vaccine provides strong protection against severe disease and may reduce transmission. Because the vaccine only requires 1 shot, experts say it could enable vaccination of hard-to-reach populations, such as homeless individuals and those in rural communities.3

“We should all be encouraged by this news of a third safe and highly effective COVID-19 vaccine,” Biden said in the press briefing.1

The vaccine can be stored at standard refrigeration temperatures for up to 3 months, which could also help expand access. In an interview with Pharmacy Times, Amesh Adalja, MD, FIDSA, FACP, FACEP, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said easier storage could be a significant help in the roll-out process.4

“The easier it is to store a vaccine, the more versatile it can be,” Adalja said. “So, with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine having an even less stringent cold chain [than Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine], you can really get that into pharmacies, you can even do door-to-door vaccination with something like this with mobile vaccination units. You could do a lot more with a vaccine where you don’t have to worry about storage.”4

Despite the encouraging developments, Biden said actions such as social distancing and mask wearing are still essential.1

“Now is not the time to let our guard down,” he concluded in the press briefing. “People’s lives are at stake.”1

REFERENCES

  • White House Press Briefing. March 2, 202
  • McGinley L, Rowland C. Biden to announce ‘historic partnership’: Merck will help make Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine, officials say. The Washington Post; March 2, 2021. https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2021/03/02/merck-johnson-and-johnson-covid-vaccine-partnership/. Accessed March 2, 2021.
  • FDA Approves Emergency Use Authorization for Johnson & Johnson Single-Dose COVID-19 Vaccine. Pharmacy Times; February 27, 2021. https://www.pharmacytimes.com/news/fda-approves-emergency-use-authorization-for-johnson--johnson-single-dose-covid-19-vaccine. Accessed March 2, 2021.
  • Expert: Johnson & Johnson Vaccine ‘May Be a Vaccine That Many Americans Have Access to Very Easily, Very Close to Their Home’. Pharmacy Times; March 2, 2021. https://www.pharmacytimes.com/interviews/expert-the-johnson--johnson-vaccine-may-be-a-vaccine-that-many-americans-have-access-to-very-easily-very-close-to-their-home. Accessed March 2, 2021.