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Merck to open facilities to Johnson & Johnson for speedier COVID-19 vaccine production  

President Joe Biden says there will be enough of the vaccine for all American adults by the end of May.

Susan Morse, Managing Editor

Johnson & Johnson, whose vaccine just received emergency use authorization, and Merck are partnering with the federal government to ramp up manufacturing of the COVID-19 vaccine.

President Joe Biden reportedly said that there will be enough of the vaccine for all American adults by the end of May. The previous estimate was July.

Merck is repurposing some of its existing facilities for Johnson & Johnson to scale up rapid, large-scale manufacturing, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Two Merck facilities will produce drug substance, formulate and fill vials of J&J's vaccine.

Merck is using an initial Defense Production Act investment of $105 million to convert, upgrade and equip its facilities to the standards necessary to safely manufacture the vaccine.  

The collaboration will increase the manufacture of the vaccine drug substance, as well as its fill-finish capacity – two of the biggest bottlenecks facing J&J in the production of its vaccine, HHS said.

To further accelerate production of the J&J vaccine, President Biden also announced he has invoked the Defense Production Act to expedite materials in vaccine production, such as equipment, machinery and supplies like single use bags, and he has directed the Department of Defense to provide daily logistical support to strengthen J&J's efforts.

HHS is also collaborating with Merck on the manufacture of therapeutics.

The facilities will be available to private sector partners working with the federal government on the COVID-19 response or to produce Merck products against COVID-19. 

WHY THIS MATTERS

With the urging and assistance of the administration, J&J will begin operating its manufacturing facilities 24/7 to maximize production output.

These efforts will contribute to J&J's ability to accelerate delivery of its vaccine doses from 100 million doses by the end of June to at or near 100 million doses by the end of May. In the long term, these actions will ultimately double J&J's U.S. capacity to produce drug substance and increase the U.S. capacity for fill-finish.

THE LARGER TREND

The move is consistent with the administration's mission to ensure that the United States has sufficient long-term sustainable capacity to manufacture vaccines.

The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), which is part of the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, is leveraging the Defense Production Act.

To date, BARDA-supported products have achieved 59 FDA approvals, licensures or clearances. 

Twitter: @SusanJMorse
Email the writer: susan.morse@himssmedia.com