US president invokes wartime law to require Merck & Co to help produce newly approved Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine.
The United States will have enough coronavirus vaccine doses for every adult in the country by the end of May, President Joe Biden announced on Tuesday, as production of a third vaccine is set to ramp up.
During a news conference at the White House, Biden said he had invoked a wartime production law to require pharmaceutical company Merck & Co to help produce a newly approved vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson.
The US already had contracts with Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna to supply 300 million COVID-19 vaccine doses – enough to vaccinate all adults by the end of July – but the addition of a third viable vaccine and additional manufacturing capacity pushed that timeline forward.
“We’re now on track to have enough vaccine supply for every adult in America by the end of May,” Biden told reporters.
The US has been hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, but infections and coronavirus-related deaths have been declining in recent weeks amid a push to inoculate more Americans and put stricter public health regulations in place.
Over 28.7 million COVID-19 cases and more than 516,200 coronavirus-related deaths have been reported across the country to date, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
Despite the declining numbers, Biden said the fight against the virus was far from over.
“Today we’re announcing a major step forward. Two of the largest healthcare and pharmaceutical companies in the world, that are usually competitors, are working together on the vaccine,” he said.
Biden said he had invoked the Defense Production Act, a 1950 law passed by Congress during the Korean War, to require Merck & Co to equip two facilities to produce the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Johnson & Johnson has committed to manufacture the new vaccine 24 hours a day, seven days a week, he also said, adding that the US Department of Defense will provide logistical support.
Also on Tuesday, Biden said he is directing US states to prioritise the vaccination of educators and childcare workers to help get schools and daycare centres reopened.
In addition, starting next week, pharmacies receiving federal supplies of vaccines would also prioritise vaccinating educators.
“My challenge to all states, territories and the District of Columbia is this: We want every educator, school staff member, childcare worker to receive at least one shot by the end of the month of March,” Biden said.
Biden has promised to administer 100 million COVID-19 jabs in his first 100 days in office.
By Tuesday morning, more than 102 million doses had been distributed across the country since the US vaccination programme began last year, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while more than 78.6 million doses had been administered.
He is also urging Democrats in the US Congress to pass his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, which aims to boost the economy amid a pandemic-related downturn.