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Biden says U.S. on track to have enough vaccine for all adults by end of May

Joe Biden
Posted at 2:35 PM, Mar 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-02 16:35:37-05

President Biden on Tuesday announced a partnership between competitors Johnson & Johnson and pharmaceutical giant Merck at the White House on Tuesday. The partnership, first reported by The Washington Post, could help Johnson & Johnson produce more of its newly authorized single-shot vaccine.

The Food and Drug Administration has approved the vaccine for emergency use, and it's being shipped across the United States.

"Two of the largest health care and pharmaceutical companies in the world that are usually competitors are working together on the vaccine," Mr. Biden said, noting the partnership.

"The more people who get vaccinated, the faster we're going to overcome this virus," and the faster Americans can see loved ones and get back to normal, the president said in a White House address.

The Defense Production Act will be used to accelerate the production of equipment machinery and supplies

Johnson & Johnson began shipping out 4 million doses early Monday morning — 6 million less than it originally committed to having ready by the end of February. The company expects to deliver more than 20 million doses by the end of March, and 100 million by the end of June.

A senior administration official confirmed The Washington Post report to CBS News, adding that Merck will dedicate two factories to filling and producing the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. This has the potential to dramatically increase the supply of the vaccine, though it could take a couple months to get the Merck production process going.

Merck pulled the plug on development of its own COVID-19 vaccines in January, following poor results in early-stage studies. The drugmaker said its potential vaccines were well tolerated by patients, but generated an inferior immune system response compared with competitors.

Johnson & Johnson's vaccine has been shown to provide 85% protection against severe COVID-19 by 28 days after vaccination. Among people who got the vaccine in clinical trials, there were no COVID-related deaths.

J&J's product is a single-dose vaccine, and could address one obstacle in distribution: Getting second doses in arms on time. It is the third vaccine to be approved in the U.S., joining those developed by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, which both require a person to get two shots weeks apart.

Millions of Americans are not getting their second dose within the recommended time period for ensuring optimal protection from the virus, according to a CBS MoneyWatch review of CDC data. As of Wednesday, more than 2.8 million Americans who received their first shot — nearly 12% of those vaccinated — had not gotten their second dose within the 28-day interval prescribed for Moderna's vaccine.

Speaking on "CBS This Morning" on Monday, J&J CEO Alex Gorsky said of the single-dose vaccine, "That's 100 million people by the end of June can have one shot and be done. And so, we think that the convenience, the ease of logistics that's going to represent is significant, not only for our country but for people around the world."