US drug maker Merck to help produce rival's covid-19 vaccine

Wednesday, March 3

U.S. pharmaceutical giant Merck has agreed to help manufacture rival Johnson & Johnson’s new coronavirus vaccine.

Johnson & Johnson has encountered unexpected production problems, even as it won emergency use approval last weekend for the vaccine. 

The company has manufactured 3.9 million doses so far, but says it is on pace to produce 100 million doses by the end of June.

Merck will use two sites in the U.S., one to help make the vaccine and the other to provide “fill-finish” services, the final stage in the production process in which the vaccine is placed in vials and packaged for distribution, according to The Washington Post.

The Merck agreement with its drug-making rival could sharply increase the number of doses Johnson & Johnson could make on its own, the officials said.  

Merck failed in its efforts to develop its own coronavirus vaccine, but the company has made vaccines for a century. 

It is the sole U.S. supplier of the combination childhood vaccine that protects against measles, mumps and rubella. 

Mass inoculations in the U.S. are first targeting health care workers, older people living in nursing homes, such essential personnel as police and firefighters, teachers, people 65 and older and those with underlying health problems.

U.S. health officials are hoping that the country's sense of normalcy might return by the end of 2021, but that is dependent on the widespread vaccination of millions of adults and later, possibly children.  

So far, 75 million vaccine doses have been administered to about 15% of the country’s adult population, with half that percentage receiving both shots of the two-shot Pfizer and Moderna regimens. About 1.7 million shots are being administered daily.

Additional reporting by VOA