According to a report by The Washington Post, Kenilworth-based pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. is expected to help New Brunswick-based Johnson & Johnson (J&J) manufacture its single dose COVID-19 vaccine, which was recently approved for Emergency Use Authorization by the US Food & Drug Administration. President Biden is expected to make the announcement today.
Senior Biden administration officials were searching for additional manufacturing capacity for the J&J vaccine days after team members took office, in order to speed up production.
Merck, a pioneer in vaccines, such as those to prevent mumps and shingles announced on Jan. 25 that it would stop pursuing its two COVID-19 vaccine candidates after Phase 1 clinical trials did not deliver strong enough results. The Washington Post said Merck will produce the J&J vaccine at two US facilities. One site will make the vaccine, while the other will provide “fill-finish” services, meaning it will place the already made vaccines into vials and package them for distribution.
According to The Washington Post, Biden administration officials indicated that the president will use the Defense Production Act, created during the Korean War, to give Merck “priority in securing equipment it will need to update its facilities for vaccine production.”
At yesterday’s COVID-19 briefing, Gov. Phil Murphy said the state is anticipating 73,600 J&J doses to be delivered this week. “We do not have any clarity on what the next couple of weeks may look like in terms of J&J supplies, but the company is ramping up production,” Murphy said.
The importance of having a third effective vaccine in the state’s tool kit, especially one that requires only a single dose and can be stored via regular refrigeration, cannot be overstated, Murphy said. “This is a game changer in our fight to get more shots in arms.”
The governor said he spoke and congratulated J&J Chairman and CEO Alex Gorsky and his colleagues on the EUA. “This is a point of Jersey pride as J&J is a state icon headquartered here,” Murphy said.
Merck, which opened its first research laboratory in Rahway, New Jersey in 1933, can now share in this distinction as well.
On Saturday, J&J said the EUA issued by the FDA was based on the totality of scientific evidence, including data from the Phase 3 ENSEMBLE study that demonstrated the vaccine was 85% effective in preventing severe disease across all regions studied, and showed protection against COVID-19 related hospitalization and death, beginning 28 days after vaccination.
The pharmaceutical firm has begun shipping its COVID-19 vaccine and expects to deliver enough single-shot vaccines by the end of March to enable the full vaccination of more than 20 million people in the US. It plans to deliver 100 million single-shot vaccines to the US during the first half of 2021.
According to Gorsky, “This milestone follows a year of incredible work by our dedicated teams and unprecedented collaboration with health leaders around the world – all of whom shared a goal of bringing a single-shot vaccine to the public. “We will do everything we can to help bring this pandemic to an end, in the United States and throughout the world.”
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