White House Announces Plan to Purchase Additional 100 Million Doses of Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 Vaccine

Aislinn Antrim, Associate Editor

The additional COVID-19 doses will provide a buffer in addition to the already procured vaccines, and will also allow experts to plan for the later part of 2021, according to a White House briefing.

This article was updated on March 10, 2021, at 4pm.

President Joseph Biden has directed the Department of Health and Human Services team to procure an additional 100 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose COVID-19 vaccine, according to a White House press briefing.

The additional doses will provide a buffer in addition to the already procured vaccines, and will also allow experts to plan for the later part of 2021, according to Andy Slavitt, acting administrator of the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services, in the press briefing.

“It gives us maximum flexibility for our upcoming needs,” Slavitt said.

Biden reiterated the need for flexibility in a press briefing on Wednesday with the CEOs of Johnson & Johnson and Merck, who have partnered to increase production of the vaccine.

“I’m doing this because in these wartime efforts we need maximum flexibility," Biden said in the briefing. "There’s always a chance that we’ll encounter unexpected challenges or there will be a need for a new vaccine effort.”

Recent weeks have seen several encouraging developments in the COVID-19 vaccination roll-out, including the manufacturing partnership between Merck and Johnson & Johnson, the Federal Pharmacy Vaccine Program, and the mobilization of thousands of vaccinators. With 16 of 20 planned federally organized high-volume vaccination facilities around the country, Slavitt said more than 5000 shots have been administered.

“This is leading to results for the American people, most importantly,” Slavitt said in the briefing. “More than 90 million Americans have received a shot.”

Slavitt said the new Johnson & Johnson order is a recent development, but there should be more details soon.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, said recent data have also shown promising trends with the pandemic overall. The recent plateau of positive cases may be beginning to trend downward and the CDC has seen decreases in new hospital admissions for the most recent week, Walensky said. Deaths have hovered around 2000 per day, with the latest average down to 1600.

Despite these encouraging trends, Walensky said Americans must continue to take safety precautions as experts seek to answer lingering questions about the vaccines.

“These recent actions are a first step—not a final destination,” Walensky concluded.

With regard to lingering questions, Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said various research is ongoing. Pregnant individuals, children, and immunocompromised patients are not explicitly included in the CDC’s vaccine rollout phases, and investigators still need to know the safety and immunogenicity profile of vaccines in these populations.

Recent guidance from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said COVID-19 vaccines should not be withheld from pregnant individuals, and Fauci said clinicians should discuss the potential risks and benefits with their patients. He added that Pfizer and BioNTech have launched a randomized study to evaluate the safety and immunogenicity of their vaccine in pregnant individuals.

“Although they were not specifically looking at pregnant women in the studies which led up to the [emergency use authorization (EUA)], since the EUA, several thousands of pregnant individuals have actually gotten vaccinated,” Fauci said in the White House briefing.

Trials are also investigating the vaccines in children ages 12 and older, and Fauci said researchers will likely know by early Fall 2021 whether high-school age children can be safely vaccinated. Similarly, studies are planned in highly allergic individuals.

REFERENCE

Press Briefing by White House COVID-19 Response Team and Public Health Officials. White House; March 10, 2021. https://www.whitehouse.gov/live/. Accessed March 10, 2021.