President Joe Biden’s administration on Wednesday announced plans to secure an additional 100 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine, doubling the number of doses ordered by the government.
Senior officials told The New York Times the administration views the added doses as a necessary precaution, given the unpredictable nature of the coronavirus.
The one-shot vaccines could be used as boosters, tweaked to address emerging viral mutations, or serve as a critical reserve in the event a manufacturing hiccup disrupts the supply of other vaccines.
The initial order of 100 million J&J vaccines should be fully delivered in the first half of 2021, with the second 100 million expected by the end of the year.
The additional “order allows for the president to plan for the future in the latter part of the year,” said Andy Slavitt, the White House’s senior adviser on the COVID-19 response, at a press conference Wednesday afternoon. “This is wartime. And as facts still emerge, it gives us maximum flexibility for our upcoming needs.”
Production of the J&J shot should rapidly increase in the coming months, thanks to an unusual agreement the pharmaceutical company reached with its rival Merck.
The “wartime effort,” pushed by the Biden administration, will see two of Merck’s U.S. manufacturing sites devoted to churning out J&J’s vaccine, potentially doubling its capacity, officials told The Washington Post.
Separately, Pfizer and Moderna are expected to provide a total of 220 million vaccine doses by the end of March, more than doubling the 75 million shipped so far.
A vaccine tracker maintained by Bloomberg shows the U.S. has averaged more than 2 million shots a day for the last week, putting the Biden administration on track to dispense 100 million shots in the 60 days since his inauguration.
As of Tuesday, March 9, 18% of the U.S. population had received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, and 9.7% had been fully vaccinated.