On Tuesday, President Joe Biden is set to announce a partnership between competitors Merck and Johnson & Johnson in an effort to ramp up vaccine production in the United States, according to officials familiar with the situation.
The cooperation between the two companies was first reported by The Washington Post, which said that officials did not explain how the two companies working together would alter the timeline for distribution of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine or change the amount of vaccines that will be made.
In the partnership, Merck will use two of their U.S. facilities in order to produce Johnson & Johnson vaccines. The Post reported: “One will provide ‘fill-finish’ services, the last stage of the production process during which the vaccine substance is placed in vials and packaged for distribution. The other will make the vaccine, and has the potential to vastly increase supply, perhaps even doubling what Johnson & Johnson could make on its own, the officials said.”
Johnson & Johnson did not respond to The Post’s request for comment. Merck also did not provide a comment on the deal but said it “remains steadfast in our commitment to contribute to the global response to the pandemic.”
Johnson & Johnson has reportedly been on the lookout for places where they can make massive amounts of their vaccine. “It has publicly disclosed more than half a dozen manufacturing sites on four continents that it said were winnowed from more than 100 possibilities,” The Post reported.
Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky told CNBC on Monday, “While the science and the biology, the chemistry is certainly challenging in, in bringing a vaccine out and discovering and developing under these timelines, the engineering feat of actually producing it is just as challenging and, and we’ve been working very, very closely with partners around the world.”
He continued, “Whenever you do something like this, it’s never a linear shot you’re always going to have, but I think more than anything else that should reinforce our commitment to quality, to following the right processes, and we’re very confident in our ability to hit the objectives that I just mentioned.”
Merck is the only company in the United States that supplies the combination childhood vaccines for measles, mumps, and rubella. It reportedly also created Gardasil and earned FDA clearance to create an Ebola vaccine in 2019. The company manufactures vaccines in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and other states. On January 25, Merck stated that it would be stopping its efforts to make two possible shots for the coronavirus. The Post reported, “The vaccine did not stimulate enough antibodies in Phase 1 human clinical trials to justify continuing, the company said.”
The announcement of the coalition comes at a time when some people are questioning which vaccine to get, namely due to the fact that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has a lower efficacy rate than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. After the second dose of both vaccines, Pfizer proved to be 95% effective at preventing Covid-19, whereas Moderna showed a 94.1% efficacy rate.
According to Stat News, the one-dose shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine “was shown to be 66% protective against moderate to severe Covid infections overall from 28 days after injection, though there was variability based on geographic locations. The vaccine was 72% protective in the United States, 66% protective in South America, and 57% protective in South Africa.”
The Johnson & Johnson shot, however, was 85% effective at protecting people “against severe disease…And there were no hospitalizations or deaths in the vaccine arm of the trial after the 28-day period in which immunity developed.”
In a CNBC interview on Monday, Gorsky said, “There’s a lot of different ways to try and do comparisons…But when you really look at what’s the objective here, keeping people out of the hospital, keeping people from dying, we believe this is an incredibly important tool to be added — to health-care systems let alone for patients around the world.”
It is unclear how the new collaboration will affect the timeline of vaccine rollout. One of the officials who spoke to The Post called it “a historic partnership.”
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