Merck to help produce rival J&J’s COVID-19 vaccine


WASHINGTON (AP) – Pharmaceutical company Merck & Co. will help produce the coronavirus vaccine recently approved by rival Johnson & Johnson in an effort to expand supply more quickly, a Biden administration official confirmed Tuesday.

The announcement comes as the White House seeks to accelerate production of the single-dose vaccine. Authorities have said that J&J faced unexpected production problems with its vaccine and produced only 3.9 million doses before receiving emergency use authorization on Saturday. The company says it is on track to deliver 100 million doses by the end of June.

Asked about the delay in the company’s delivery schedule, J&J Vice President Richard Nettles told lawmakers on Capitol Hill last week that the company had faced “significant challenges” due to its “highly complex manufacturing process.” “.

Merck’s assistance was expected to help J&J meet its production commitments and expand the offering even further, but management did not immediately provide details.

President Joe Biden will highlight the development in a speech Tuesday afternoon, as his administration now hopes to have enough supplies of the three approved vaccines to inoculate all eligible American adults by June, although in reality giving the injections could take longer. weather.

It was not immediately clear when the effect of Merck’s assistance would be reflected in the supply. Previously, federal officials warned that creating highly specialized manufacturing lines to produce vaccines would take months.

A second official said Merck would dedicate two plants to the production process. One would manufacture the vaccine and the other would be in charge of inserting the vaccine into vials and ensuring strict quality controls.

The two administration officials confirmed Merck’s involvement on condition of anonymity prior to Biden’s public announcement. The news was first reported by The Washington Post.

Merck halted its own plans to develop a coronavirus vaccine earlier this year, finding that its candidates were eliciting an inferior immune system response compared to other vaccines. He said he would instead focus his work on developing treatments for COVID-19.

Compared to the two-dose versions produced by Moderna and Pfizer, the J&J vaccine requires fewer resources to distribute and administer, making it a cornerstone of US plans to spread the vaccines around the world. but only once Americans are vaccinated. The J&J vaccine can be stored for months at a refrigerated temperature, rather than frozen, and does not require patients to return for a second dose three to four weeks later.

Before the White House announcement, Merck did not discuss a deal with New Brunswick, NJ-based Johnson & Johnson to produce doses of the COVID-19 vaccine or say whether it is talking to other companies to help make its own. .

“Merck remains steadfast in our commitment to contribute to the global response to the pandemic and to prepare to address future pandemics,” the Kenilworth, NJ-based company said in a statement.

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Associated Press medical writer Linda Johnson contributed to this report from Trenton, NJ.

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