There is breaking news this evening indicating that the United States will have enough COVID-19 vaccine supply for all American adults by the end of May. The move was a result of an agreement by pharmaceutical producer Merck to assist Johnson & Johnson in accelerating its vaccine production efforts. The J&J vaccine was granted emergency use approval in the U.S. last weekend.

This move came after the U.S. Defense Production Act was invoked by the Biden Administration to provide Merck priority access to needed supplies including added machinery and filtration systems.

COVID-19 Vaccine Supply Chain

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki has indicated that discussions were already underway among Johnson & Johnson and Merck regarding a contract manufacturing effort and the leveraging of the DPA provided Merck with the priority access needed to accelerate the timetable. According to Ms. Psaki, one Merck “fill and finish” facility will be called into assistance along with assistance of a vaccine production facility.

Merck has previously cancelled two of its own COVID-19 vaccine development programs in January after disappointing clinal trial results. Thus, there was presumably already some planning relative to reserving vaccine production capacity.

Reportedly, White House COVID-19 Coordinator Jeff Zients facilitated the deal among the two pharmaceutical companies. Bloomberg reported yesterday that J&J was seeking a manufacturing partner to speed up its supply delivery timeline of 20 million vaccine doses by the end of this month, and a subsequent 100 million doses by the end of June. It now appears that this timetable could be accelerated to May with this supplemental production agreement with Merck.

In a separate report, Bloomberg reported that Merck announced deals with the government to produce COVID-19 “vaccines and medicines,” with a separate one with J&J, for which terms were not immediately disclosed.

The total vaccine supply predicated for the end of May includes all three previously approved vaccines. There could be two other candidates by that timeframe, that being the AstraZeneca and Novavax vaccine candidates, if granted emergency use approval.

In conjunction with today’s announcement, President Biden urged U.S. states to consider giving added priority to school educators, staffers and child-care workers for at least one vaccination by the end of March.


Additional Thoughts

With this week representing the reality that one year ago, reports of widespread COVID-19 infection were rampant across Europe, and subsequently in a matter of a few more weeks, across the U.S. and other countries.

It is truly remarkable that scientists, infectious disease professionals and global pharmaceutical production and supply networks have been able to respond the way that they have. This is obviously unprecedented.

We should further keep top of mind that not all countries are in the same supply position as that of the United States. A lot of government money and centralized management has been focused on the supply situation after a dismal supply outlook in January of this year.

We trust that other nations will soon be able to garner similar vaccine supply agreements. Further, special assistance should be focused to underdeveloped nations as well. It behooves all businesses large and small that COVID-19 vaccine global supply networks continue with all-out production and priority of raw materials and other administration needs.

Bob Ferrari

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