White House COVID-19 team details Merck, J&J vaccine partnership

Coronavirus

WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — White House officials Wednesday announced that the United States is investing $100 million to scale up vaccine manufacturing between Merck and Co Inc. and Johnson & Johnson to make the latter’s single-shot COVID-19 vaccine.

President Joe Biden announced the partnership Tuesday night, calling it an example of “good corporate citizenship.”

White House senior adviser Andy Slavitt said that Merck will need until May to set up its facilities for the production of the J&J vaccine.

“Over time we believe that Merck will be able to double the capacity that we’ve seen from Johnson & Johnson heretofore,” Slavitt said at the White House COVID-19 response team briefing Wednesday.

With the U.S. shipping out its third coronavirus vaccine, Biden has said he’s confident there would be enough doses available for each adult in the country by the end of May.

The president said he’s upbeat about reaching his goal of delivering 100 million COVID-19 vaccine doses in his first 100 days in office, but urged Americans to remain vigilant in wearing masks and observing social distancing.

“The most important thing you can do is roll up your sleeve and get vaccinated as soon as possible with whatever vaccine is available to you,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said at the Wednesday briefing.

This comes as states across the country are lifting coronavirus restrictions. Notably, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced Tuesday that the Lone Star state is lifting its mask mandate and allowing businesses to reopen at “100%” by next week.

Meanwhile, the president is also calling on states to prioritize COVID-19 vaccinations for teachers to ensure children could return to school quickly and safely. He said every educator should receive at least one shot by the end of March.

Biden, whose new education secretary took office on Tuesday, said increased production of the three vaccines would boost what he called a “national imperative” to reopen U.S. schools given growing mental health concerns and widening disparities caused by the challenges of remote learning.

Biden said over 30 states had already taken steps to ensure educators were vaccinated and that he was using the full authority of the federal government to direct the remaining states to follow suit.

“My challenge 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,” he said, noting that parents were exiting the labor market in “astonishing numbers” to help their children learn remotely.

Reuters contributed to this report. Reporting by Nandita Bose and Andrea Shalal.

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