J&J has shipped around 4 million doses to the US government since the single-dose vaccine was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in February. However, the company struggled with early production disruptions affecting its initial supply. It hired Merck to help with production in an agreement Biden announced last week, as it promised most Americans would be able to shoot by May, adding two months to the timeline.
However, it will take at least two months for Merck to prepare its “fill-finish” facility, which will be used to package and ship the J&J vaccine, and even longer to prepare another facility for the production of the vaccine itself. The second facility won’t be ready to manufacture vaccines until the second half of the year, according to a senior administrator who insisted that the real “bottleneck” was filling vials and getting the vaccine ready.
Administration also needs to complete the purchase of the 100 million shots with J&J, which adds to the delay.
Merck didn’t answer any questions about its timeline.
The New York Times first reported on Biden’s plans to find more J&J cans.
The White House’s recent vaccine purchase aims to prepare for a number of longer-term scenarios, including the need to give people second “booster” shots to protect themselves against emerging variants of Covid. The additional J&J recordings could later be donated to other needy countries or support a possible push to vaccinate children.
The government’s schedule for widespread availability in May will be largely affected by production increases from Pfizer and Moderna, the first two vaccine manufacturers to be approved for use, Biden’s chief medical officer Anthony Fauci told POLITICO earlier this week.
Merck’s assistance in packaging J&J could come in “towards the end, but not this minute,” he said.
J&J had already promised to ship 20 million shots this month and 100 million by June. Between that vaccine and 300 million shots apiece from Pfizer and Moderna, the federal government had already secured enough supplies to vaccinate the entire American population.
The expansion of Merck’s manufacturing facility is expected to nearly double J & J’s manufacturing capacity, senior administrators said earlier this month.
J&J also hired Emergent BioSolutions, a smaller Maryland company, in early 2020 to help with vaccine production.