In a deal brokered by the White House, the German pharmaceutical company Merck agreed to help manufacture doses of the Covid-19 vaccine from Johnson & Johnson (J&J). The announcement of the partnership is expected to be made Tuesday by the President of the United States of America (US) Joe Biden, a US government official told Reuters.
The production of the J&J vaccine was slower than promised. According to the contract, the company should have shipped 12 million cans by the end of February – but no cans will be shipped for the next week. However, fewer than four million doses were ready when the vaccine was approved by the US Medicines Agency (CDC) this Saturday.
An additional 16 million full doses are now expected to be dispensed by the end of March, which are still not in line with previously set commitments. J&J is ready to ship 100 million cans by the middle of the year.
J & J’s scientific director, Paul Stoffels, also said the company is looking for more partners to expand production capacity. Therefore, having a larger number of earlier doses can significantly speed up the vaccination effort in the United States, as a single-dose vaccine can vaccinate twice as many people with the same number of injections. The other two vaccines approved in the US – from Pfizer, BioNTech, and Moderna – require two doses.
Merck’s collaboration with J&J comes after Merck stopped developing its own vaccines against Covid-19 in January. The pharmaceutical company announced in February that it was working on an agreement to open up manufacturing capacity to other vaccine manufacturers. With the partnership, Johnson & Johnson should be able to meet production commitments and further expand the range of vaccines.
The partnership is the latest example of large drug manufacturers joining together to produce vaccines in response to the vaccine shortages faced by many countries.
According to the Washington Post, which covered the news, Merck will dedicate two facilities in the US to the J&J vaccine.
In January, the Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis signed an agreement with Pfizer and BioNTech to fill vaccine bottles. The French drug Sanofi will also help fill and pack millions of doses of Pfizer vaccine from July.
The J&J vaccine compound is manufactured in the United States at a factory operated by Emergent BioSolutions, as well as at facilities in the Netherlands and India. There are two factories in the United States, operated by Catalent and Grand River Asceptic Manufacturing, that manufacture the vaccine and fill it into vials. The company also has partners in Spain, Italy, India and South Africa.