Merck to Help Johnson & Johnson Make Its Covid-19 Vaccine--3rd Update
By Sabrina Siddiqui and Tarini Parti
Merck & Co. will help produce Johnson & Johnson's
single-dose Covid-19 vaccine, President Biden plans to announce
Tuesday, as the administration pushes to get the shot to the
The president is expected to make the announcement while giving
an update on the pandemic, White House press secretary Jen Psaki
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 Saturday.
J&J declined to comment. In a statement 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."
Ms. Psaki said one of the Merck facilities will help
"fill-finish" the vaccine -- a step in which vials are filled with
vaccines, capped and readied for shipment -- and the other will
help produce the vaccine.
She said conversations between J&J and Merck were under way
and the administration helped in completing the deal, in part by
providing Merck with a commitment to help with upgrading its
facilities for vaccine production.
Ms. Psaki declined to detail the role administration officials
played, but she said they took steps to help expedite manufacturing
after learning J&J was behind on its production. J&J
executives have said they ran into challenges in scaling
manufacturing output but that they would deliver 100 million
vaccines to the U.S. in the first half of 2021.
White House Covid-19 coordinator Jeff Zients worked on the deal
with the two companies' chief executives and officials at the
Department of Health and Human Services, a person familiar with the
J&J, based in New Brunswick, N.J., had made nearly four
million doses for 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
Covid-19 shots for all Americans by the end of July based on
agreements to purchase vaccines from Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc.
Ms. Psaki said ramping up the production of J&J's vaccine will
speed up that timeline.
Moderna, Pfizer and J&J, without the supplement from Merck,
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 analysts projected the U.S. will have received enough Covid-19
vaccine doses since December to fully vaccinate 345 million
Merck, a Kenilworth, N.J., firm, is a pioneer in vaccines, such
as those to prevent mumps and shingles, but it scrapped two
programs to develop a Covid-19 vaccine in January after
disappointing clinical studies. The company was also slower to
pursue Covid-19 vaccines, The Wall Street Journal reported last
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.
Mr. Zients said 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.
--Jared Hopkins and Stephanie Armour contributed to this
Write to Sabrina Siddiqui at Sabrina.Siddiqui@wsj.com and Tarini
Parti at Tarini.Parti@wsj.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
March 02, 2021 14:07 ET (19:07 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2021 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.