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US Biden announces deal between Merck, Johnson & Johnson to boost vaccine supplies

09:20  04 april  2021
09:20  04 april  2021 Source:   usatoday.com

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WASHINGTON –  An "historic" agreement between competing pharmaceutical companies will allow the United States to have enough vaccines for every adult by the end of May, President Joe Biden announced Tuesday.

Merck will help Johnson & Johnson make its newly approved vaccine to meet that goal ahead of a July timeline.

The president also said he's using the federal government's pharmacy vaccination program to prioritize getting teachers and child care workers vaccinated by the end of the month.

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“We're making progress from the mess we inherited,” Biden said.

He remained cautious, however, when asked when the nation will get to back normal, declining to set a timeframe "because we don't know for sure."

Biden also stressed the importance of people continuing to wear masks, in remarks made not long after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced he's lifting that state's mask mandate.

At the daily briefing before the president spoke, White House press secretary Jen Psaki called the vaccine venture a “historic manufacturing partnership" between two competitors.

"As soon as we learned about the fact that Johnson & Johnson was behind in manufacturing ... we took steps to ensure we could expedite that and partner them with one of the world’s biggest manufacturers," Psaki said .

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President Joe Biden was expected to talk later Tuesday about how the arrangement will affect the production timeline.

Also on Tuesday, vaccination centers were to start receiving some of the 3.9 million doses of J&J vaccines, which received emergency use authorization on Saturday. That's the entirety of its current inventory.

States have been told by the administration that distribution and delivery will be uneven in early March. The bulk of the company's total 20 million doses expected to be delivered by the end of the month will be concentrated in the last half of March.

J&J  was expected to produce 100 million doses by the end of June. Now, full delivery is expected by the end of May.

Though talks between the companies started before Biden took office, the new president got the deal across the finish line, Psaki said. She said the administration invoked the wartime authority of the Defense Production Act to make sure Merck's facilities were able to make the vaccine. The federal government is spending $105 million to convert, upgrade and equip the plants. The Defense Department is providing logistical support.

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“We have used the full power of the federal government to expedite the manufacturing," Psaki said.

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Merck is not producing its own vaccine.

Because J&J's vaccine is a more traditional type of vaccine, production is easier to transfer to other manufacturers than those made by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech.

Most communities will have all three types of the coronavirus vaccine, but not at every vaccination site, administration officials have said.

J&J's vaccine has the advantage of needing only one dose compared with the two doses for the other vaccines. It also doesn't need to be kept in a freezer, which makes it easier to transport and store.

But the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines appear to be more effective than J&J's, showing better than 94% effectiveness in large trials last year.

The vaccines can't be compared directly, however, because the trials were done at different times. J&J's vaccine appeared to be 72% effective among U.S. trial participants. It was less effective in South Africa and Latin America, where newer strains of the virus are circulating.

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It was nearly 100% effective at preventing hospitalizations and deaths.

"This means we now have three safe and highly effective vaccines that prevent serious illness, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19," Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Monday.

But because of the difference in effectiveness against the virus, administration officials said they were directing jurisdictions to distribute them equitably and would be watching to make sure that happens.

"Should certain vaccines go consistently to certain communities, we will be able to intervene," Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, head of the administration's COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force, told reporters Monday. "We're here to provide support and technical assistance to pivot and intervene and correct, if and when needed."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden announces deal between Merck, Johnson & Johnson to boost vaccine supplies

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