By Sabrina Siddiqui and Tarini Parti 

Merck & Co. will help produce Johnson & Johnson's single-dose Covid-19 vaccine, President Biden plans to announce on Tuesday, as the administration pushes to get the shot to the American public at a faster pace.

The president is expected to make the announcement while giving an update on the pandemic, administration officials said. The assistance from Merck, a competitor to Johnson & Johnson, will help speed up production after the one-shot vaccine was authorized by the Food and Drug Administration on Saturday.

J&J declined to comment. In a statement on Tuesday, a Merck spokesman said the company "remains steadfast in our commitment to contribute to the global response to the pandemic and to preparing to address future pandemics."

U.S. regulators cleared J&J's vaccine -- the third to receive approval -- for use, but initial supplies are limited as the company boosts manufacturing efforts. The New Brunswick, N.J.-based company had made nearly four million doses for initial shipments that began going out this week. The Biden administration said it expected about 20 million doses to be delivered by the end of March.

The Biden administration has said it expects to have enough doses for all Americans by the end of July, based on agreements to purchase vaccines from Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc. Administration officials didn't say Tuesday how the J&J vaccine would affect that timetable.

Moderna, Pfizer and J&J are scheduled to supply enough doses in the U.S. in March to vaccinate about 80 million people, according to analysts from Evercore ISI. In April, enough doses will be supplied for 125 million people, assuming shots from AstraZeneca PLC and Novavax Inc. are cleared for use, according to Evercore. By the end of May, the U.S. is slated to have received since December enough Covid-19 vaccine doses to fully vaccinate 345 million people.

Merck, a Kenilworth, N.J. firm, is a pioneer in vaccines, such as those to prevent mumps and shingles, but has been on the sidelines of the Covid-19 vaccine race since scrapping two programs in January after disappointing clinical studies. Merck was also slower to pursue Covid-19 vaccines, The Wall Street Journal reported last year.

The partnership between J&J and Merck would mark the latest example of pharmaceutical rivals working together to make Covid-19 vaccines. Sanofi SA and Novartis AG are helping to make the shot from Pfizer and its partner BioNTech SE.

The partnership comes as Mr. Biden's administration has emphasized the urgency of vaccinating the public against Covid-19 and warned of a new and more transmissible variant that is rapidly spreading across the country.

White House Covid-19 coordinator Jeff Zients said on Monday that the administration had begun distributing 3.9 million doses of the J&J vaccine to states, tribes and territories, as well as to pharmacies and community health centers. Mr. Zients said the company had communicated to the administration that supply "will be limited for the next couple of weeks" after the initial distribution but expected to deliver additional doses by the end of March.

The $1 billion contract J&J signed with the U.S. government called for it to have 12 million doses ready by the end of February. The contract allowed the company to make the deliveries up to 30 days late if it ran into delays.

Richard Nettles, vice president of U.S. medical affairs in J&J's infectious-disease and vaccines division, told U.S. lawmakers last month the company faced "significant challenges" in scaling manufacturing output.

"The production of our vaccine is a highly complex process that requires very particular capabilities and experiences," Mr. Nettles said, while adding J&J was confident it would still deliver 100 million single-dose vaccines to the U.S. during the first half of 2021. Administration officials said last week they were surprised to learn J&J had run into initial delays and were working with the company to expedite production.

Write to Sabrina Siddiqui at Sabrina.Siddiqui@wsj.com and Tarini Parti at Tarini.Parti@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

March 02, 2021 11:46 ET (16:46 GMT)

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