Merck will manufacture Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine in an unusual deal brokered by the White House to boost production of the single-injection vaccine, which has been hampered by manufacturing delays.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Tuesday Big Pharma rivals would work together to increase vaccine supplies, ahead of President Joe Biden’s remarks later in the afternoon on the pact.
The Biden administration helped craft the deal between competitors after J&J, which secured a emergency use authorization for its vaccine over the weekend, has experienced production delays.
“These are obviously two companies that [have] have historically been competitors. The fact that they come together is a testament to the capacity of this administration. . . to bring them to the table and work together to fight the pandemic, ”Psaki told reporters.
US officials had hoped that J & J’s vaccine authorization would bolster the country’s vaccination campaign. But they warned that after the initial delivery of 4 million doses this week, supplies will be “spotty” for the rest of March.
J&J had previously committed to deliver doses of 10 million by the end of February.
J&J was partly held back by problems at Catalent, a key supplier, which had to resort to checking the vials by hand for two weeks after struggling to tune its automatic processes, the Financial Times reported over the weekend.
Catalent, who also fills vials for Moderna, said “short-term variations” are normal but is on track to meet its vaccine production commitments.
J&J also had to transfer the technology, in effect building copies of exact production lines, to expand into new, larger factories in the United States and the Netherlands. This process, while faster than usual, did not go as quickly as expected, people familiar with the matter said.
Although J&J is the largest healthcare company in the world, it is not as experienced in vaccines as Merck and does not have the same kind of capabilities to perform large-scale vaccinations.
Merck is one of the world’s largest vaccine manufacturers, with many vaccines already approved, including for Ebola and HPV.
However, Merck remained largely on the sidelines of the Covid-19 inoculation campaign. He was slow to enter the race to develop a vaccine and then abandoned his efforts in January after disappointing results.
Sanofi, another major vaccine maker that has fallen behind in the race to develop a vaccine for Covid-19, has agreed to help increase the supply of the J&J vaccine in Europe, announcing last month that it would use its capacity to fill vials.
J&J received the third EUA for a Covid-19 vaccine in the United States. The vaccine should be easier to deploy than those from BioNTech / Pfizer and Moderna, as it’s only a single vaccine – meaning people don’t have to come back for a second appointment – and can be stored at normal refrigerator temperature.
Merck declined to comment on the deal, saying only that it remains “steadfast in our commitment to contribute to the global pandemic response and to prepare for future pandemics.”
J&J also declined to comment.
Additional reporting by James Politi in Washington