One year ago this week, the COVID-19 pandemic hit home with Americans when Tom Hanks revealed he had tested positive and the NBA postponed its season indefinitely. Things have changed mightily since then: A national vaccine rollout is gaining steam, and the U.S. is inking yet another huge supply deal.
The Biden administration is purchasing another 100 million doses of the one-dose shot from Johnson & Johnson, according to media reports. The vaccine is just rolling out across the U.S. after an FDA authorization late last month.
The new purchase will take the expected U.S. supply of COVID-19 vaccines to 800 million doses, far more than is necessary to immunize the population of around 330 million. The additional purchases suggest government officials expect a significant need for booster shots as coronavirus variants emerge.
President Joe Biden will reveal the new deal at a Wednesday meeting with executives from Merck & Co. and Johnson & Johnson, CNN reports.
Last week, those two pharma giants teamed up in what one U.S. official described as a “wartime” pact between rivals. Merck will help with multiple steps of J&J's vaccine production process, and the tie-up could double J&J’s capacity in the U.S., officials said. Merck had tried its hand at COVID-19 vaccine research, but its own programs didn't make it far.
The 800 million dose figure now locked down by the U.S. doesn't include potential rollouts from AstraZeneca and Novavax. The government has already purchased 300 million doses each from Pfizer and Moderna—whose shots were authorized late last year—and another 100 million doses from Johnson & Johnson. The Pfizer and Moderna mRNA shots require two doses per person for a full course.
Speaking after the deal was unveiled, Biden said that vaccination is the "only way to beat the pandemic." The partnership between J&J and Merck "proves we can do big things, important things," he said.
If the U.S. ends up having a vaccine surplus, the country will share doses with the rest of the world, he added.
The news comes amid reports that other countries are having trouble getting vaccine doses. Earlier this week, Reuters reported that Johnson & Johnson is “under stress” to deliver on its pledge to supply Europe with 55 million doses in the second quarter. Canada’s prime minister Justin Trudeau recently said the country has been warned about production problems in J&J's supply chain. Canada still doesn’t have a target for its first J&J deliveries, Trudeau said.