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Covid-19: Biden says vaccine doses could be available to all US adults by end of May

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Credit…Jay Laprete/Associated Press

President Biden announced on Tuesday that there would be enough doses of the coronavirus vaccine available for the entire adult population in the United States. at the end of Mayalthough he said it would take longer to inoculate everyone and he urged people to stay vigilant by wearing masks.

Mr Biden had previously said there would be enough doses by the end of July. On Tuesday, he said the faster production of the vaccine was partly the result of a deal from pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co to help manufacture Johnson & Johnson’s new coronavirus vaccine in an unusual deal, brokered by the White House.

He said this deal, along with other government efforts to help Johnson & Johnson produce more doses quickly, will dramatically increase the supply of the new vaccine and accelerate the pace of vaccination, as will worrying new variants of the viruses have been discovered in the United States.

“As a result of the expedited process I ordered and just described, this country will have a sufficient supply of vaccines as a target for every adult in America by the end of May,” Biden said. ” At the end of May. It is progress. Significant progress.

He also said he wanted all teachers to be vaccinated by the end of this month.

The Merck arrangement, first reported by the Washington Postcomes just days after the Food and Drug Administration granted emergency clearance for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Merck is an experienced vaccine manufacturer whose own attempt to make a coronavirus vaccine failed. Mr Biden called the partnership between the two competitors “historic” and said it was a reminder of his vision for a war effort to fight the coronavirus, similar to manufacturing campaigns conducted during World War II.

“It’s a type of business-to-business collaboration that we saw in World War II,” the president said.

Trump and Biden administration officials had explored seek help from Merck in the manufacture of vaccines developed either by Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson. But Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said the White House deserved credit for pushing through the deal.

“There’s a difference between conversations and moving forward,” she said. “I’m just passing on what got him over the finish line.”

How quickly Merck will be able to ramp up is unclear. It will take the company months to convert its facilities to manufacture and package a vaccine it did not invent, according to two people familiar with Johnson & Johnson’s operations who were not authorized to speak publicly. But a federal official with knowledge of the arrangement, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the administration hopes the deal will eventually double the doses Johnson & Johnson could have manufactured on its own.

Although company executives promised the company would catch up this spring, Johnson & Johnson fell behind manufacturing goals as it attempts to ramp up at its new Baltimore plant. Its first shipments of doses, delivered this week to the States, were manufactured at its factory in the Netherlands.

Under the new agreement, Merck will dedicate two of its facilities to the production of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

One facility will provide “fill-finish,” the final phase of the manufacturing process in which the vaccine is placed into vials and packaged for shipment. The other will manufacture the “drug substance” – the vaccine itself.

Psaki said the federal government will invoke the Defense Production Act to help Merck obtain needed supplies and equipment, and also asked the Department of Defense to bolster Johnson & Johnson’s manufacturing effort.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is the third to receive emergency clearance from the Food and Drug Administration – after Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech.

And the pace of the country’s vaccination effort has steadily accelerated. On Monday, around 50.7 million people received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, including around 25.5 million people who were fully vaccinated, according to Centers for Disaster Control and Prevention.

While the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines performed somewhat better in clinical trials, all three vaccines are considered safe and effective. And the The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has some advantages: It only requires one injection and studies show it can stop the spread of the virus.

The other two vaccines use a new technology called mRNA, which allowed for faster design and testing of the vaccine, but resulted in a product that required stricter storage conditions. Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, which uses viruses to deliver genes into cells, can be stored for three months at normal refrigeration temperatures, making it easier to distribute and store in pharmacies and clinics. At $10 a dose, it’s also cheaper than the other two.

Johnson & Johnson’s $1 billion federal contract, signed last year when it had just begun developing the vaccine, asked him to deliver 37 million doses by the end of March and a total of 100 million doses by the end of June. The company has now said it can only deliver 20 million doses this month, and senior administration officials have said the vast majority of those won’t be ready until the final weeks of March.

This week, states will receive 3.9 million doses made in a Dutch factory and bottled in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Johnson & Johnson is expected to mass-produce the vaccine at a new Baltimore plant operated by a company called Emergent BioSolutions. Catalent, a different company, will bottle the doses.

The FDA emergency use authorization, granted on Saturday evening, covered the Dutch production lines and the Grand Rapids bottling operation. In about two weeks, federal regulators are expected to decide whether or not to modify that authorization to include the other factories, according to the two people familiar with Johnson and Johnson’s operations. Until then, they said, the supply will be spotty and limited.

For nearly a year, Merck has been looking for a way to play a key role in the country’s immunization program. Federal officials have considered a possible partnership between Merck and Pfizer or Moderna, but Ms. Psaki said the mRNA technology could not be transferred smoothly.

Even with Merck, the two people familiar with Johnson & Johnson’s operations, retooling factories to produce the vaccine will be a laborious, months-long process. By the time it is accomplished, the demand for shots may have diminished.

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