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Biden sees faster US vaccine timeline as pharma giants join forces
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks in the State Dining Room of the White House on March 2, 2021 in Washington, DC. President Biden spoke about the recently announced partnership between Johnson & Johnson and Merck to produce more J&J COVID-19 vaccine.
AFP/Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images

Biden sees faster US vaccine timeline as pharma giants join forces

John Biers (Agence France-Presse) - March 3, 2021 - 8:08am

NEW YORK, United States — President Joe Biden said Tuesday the United States would have enough vaccine for its entire adult population by the end of May, as he announced a deal for pharma giant Merck to produce the shot developed by rival Johnson & Johnson.

"This is the type of collaboration between companies we saw in World War," said Biden in announcing the pharmaceutical accord.

"We're now on track to have enough vaccine supply for every adult in America by the end of May," said the US leader — who previously targeted late July to amass sufficient doses to inoculate all Americans. 

"That's progress. Important progress. But it is not enough to have the vaccine supply," Biden said, stressing that a "wartime effort" still lay ahead to administer the vaccines once acquired.

Merck will use two of its facilities to "produce drug substance, formulate and fill vials of J&J's vaccine," according to a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) statement.

Biden's administration will leverage the Defense Production Act to provide an initial $105 million for Merck to convert and equip its facilities to safely manufacture the vaccine, the statement said.

The J&J vaccine is the third to receive US regulatory approval for emergency use, but the first that requires a single shot as opposed to two jabs.

Biden also said Johnson & Johnson's own vaccine manufacturing facilities "will now begin to operate 24/7" — at the administration's urging.

HHS said this would enable J&J to deliver close to 100 million doses to the United States by end May — instead of June as previously pledged.

J&J said in a statement it was "pleased" to work with Merck, which will "enhance our production capacity so that we can supply beyond our current commitments."

Boosting capacity

Biden's remarks came moments after Texas Governor Greg Abbott lifted a state mask mandate and authorized business to open the state "100 percent."

But "now is not the time to let up," warned the president, calling on Americans to keep following social distancing protocols and wearing a mask even as new coronavirus cases fall and more are vaccinated.

"Great news, but stay vigilant," Biden said. "It's not over yet." 

The J&J shot appears slightly less protective than Pfizer and Moderna's regimes, which have an efficacy of around 95 percent against all forms of Covid-19. But all three have been shown to fully protect against hospitalizations and death.

White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeff Zients said Monday the federal government aims to distribute 3.9 million doses of the new vaccine this week -- "the entire J&J inventory."

A major vaccine producer in its own right, Merck had begun work on coronavirus vaccines, but abandoned those efforts in January, saying the immune responses that were "inferior" to successful Covid-19 vaccines.

The agreement between Merck and J&J follows on the heels of an accord between Pfizer/BioNTech and French pharma giant Sanofi, which plans to produce 125 million doses at a factory in Frankfurt, Germany after Sanofi's own vaccine candidate fell short.

COVID-19 VACCINES JOE BIDEN NOVEL CORONAVIRUS UNITED STATES
As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: April 15, 2021 - 8:36am

Pharma giants Sanofi and GSK said on July 29, 2020, that they have agreed to supply Britain with up to 60 million doses of a potential COVID-19 vaccine. The agreement covers a vaccine candidate developed by France's Sanofi in partnership with the UK's GSK and is subject to a "final contract."

This thread collects some of the major developments in the search for a vaccine to ease the new coronavirus pandemic. (Main photo by AFP/Joel Saget)

April 15, 2021 - 8:36am

A pause on all US vaccinations with the Johnson & Johnson Covid shot will continue for at least another week after members of a government-convened expert panel said Wednesday they needed more time to assess its possible links to a clotting disorder.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) convened a meeting a day after authorities reported six cases of women developing brain clots along with low blood platelet counts, including one death, within two weeks of people getting the one-dose Covid-19 vaccine. 

The shot has been given to some 7.2 million Americans, and participants at the meeting were told on Wednesday a seventh case involving a 28-year-old woman has been identified. —  AFP

April 14, 2021 - 6:46pm

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday he has received the second dose of a vaccine against the coronavirus and said he hopes Russians follow his example.

"I want to inform you that right now, before entering this room, I also received the second vaccination," he said at a televised meeting. "I assume that you, taking care of yourself and your loved ones, will do the same and follow my example." — AFP

April 13, 2021 - 2:51pm

A leading local drugmaker says India has authorized the Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine in a boost for the nation's inoculation drive as infection rates soar to record highs.

Russia's Sputnik V is the third vaccine to be approved by India after the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and Covaxin, which was developed by Indian firm Bharat Biotech.

"We are very pleased to obtain the emergency use authorisation for Sputnik V in India," says G.V. Prasad, co-chair of pharmaceutical company Dr Reddy's Laboratories, in a statement. — AFP

April 13, 2021 - 10:33am

Britain says it had met its target to offer by April 15 a coronavirus vaccine first dose to all over-50s, the clinically vulnerable and health and social care workers.

"We have now passed another hugely significant milestone in our vaccine programme by offering jabs to everyone in the nine highest risk groups," Prime Minister Boris Johnson says in a statement. — AFP

April 13, 2021 - 7:21am

Britain says late Monday it had met its target to offer by April 15 a coronavirus vaccine first dose to all over-50s, the clinically vulnerable and health and social care workers.

"We have now passed another hugely significant milestone in our vaccine programme by offering jabs to everyone in the nine highest risk groups," Prime Minister Boris Johnson says in a statement. —  AFP

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