Biden to announce Merck will help make Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine

Biden to announce Merck will help make Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden will announce Tuesday that Merck & Co. will help manufacture Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot coronavirus vaccine, a senior administration official confirmed to NBC News.

The agreement could boost supply of the vaccine, which is being delivered to states this week after gaining federal approval for distribution to the public.

The deal between the two major pharmaceutical companies, first reported by The Washington Post, was brokered by the Biden administration after officials found out that Johnson & Johnson had fallen behind in the production of its vaccine.

The partnership will involve two Merck facilities, one of which will produce the vaccine while the other carries out the last phase of the manufacturing process, the Post reported.

Merck had attempted to produce its own vaccine, but announced in late January that it was discontinuing the development of its two candidates after early clinical trial data showed an “inferior” immune response.

Biden is scheduled to deliver remarks from the White House on Tuesday afternoon about the pandemic. He will also speak earlier in the day by phone to Senate Democrats as they prepare to vote this week on the House-passed Covid-19 relief package.

The Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use authorization to Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine over the weekend, making it the third vaccine available to the public. The vaccines developed by Moderna and Pfizer are the other two, though those require two separate doses to be administered three to four weeks apart.

Johnson & Johnson shipped out 4 million doses of its vaccine Monday, with 16 million more doses expected by the end of the month. Experts say it can be a “game changer,” especially because it only requires one dose and can be kept in regular refrigerators, while the other two vaccines require ultracold storage conditions.

More than 15 percent of people in the U.S. have received at least one Covid-19 vaccination dose so far, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky and other top officials warned Monday that states shouldn’t be loosening their Covid-19 restrictions yet. They said they’re concerned that Covid-19 cases have stopped falling and that loosening rules could lead to another surge.

Image: Rebecca ShabadRebecca Shabad

Rebecca Shabad is a congressional reporter for NBC News, based in Washington.

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Kristen Welker is chief White House correspondent for NBC News.

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