President Joe Biden will double the U.S. order of Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine — seeking another 100 million doses — bringing the country’s supply to enough for 500 million people, officials familiar with the plan say.
Biden will make the announcement Wednesday during an event with the chief executives of J&J and Merck & Co., who struck a collaboration to boost production of the J&J vaccine. The U.S. had previously ordered 100 million doses, which the company has said will be delivered before the end of June. J&J and the government will finalize the new order in the coming weeks, one official said.
The order is a sign that the U.S. is continuing to stockpile doses as questions swirl around which vaccine will be best for children. No shots are currently authorized for use in people under 16, with studies under way on efficacy in older children and others expected to follow on younger ones.
Health officials are also sounding the alarm over emerging, more-contagious variants of the virus, which could blunt the impact of some inoculations or further spur the need for booster shots.
Johnson & Johnson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the plan.
The new doses will be available in the second half of the year, but specific timing will be part of the negotiations to finalize the deal, one official said. The order follows last week’s announcement of the historic Merck and J&J partnership, which was facilitated by Biden’s investment in Merck’s move and use of the Defense Production Act, a wartime power, the official said. The J&J production will eventually be distributed globally and boost global supply, the official said.
The initial J&J order, signed in August of 2020 under the Trump administration, included an option for up to an additional 200 million doses.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that the uncertainty around children and variants would also impact when the U.S. may share surplus doses with other nations.
“We don’t know which vaccine is most effective for children. Of course, that testing is ongoing,” Psaki said. “We still don’t know yet the impact of all of the variants, so I don’t have anything to predict for you in terms of what additional supply will be shared and when, and the process for that.”
With the order, the U.S. is now expecting 200 million doses from J&J, which is enough for 200 million people. That’s on top of 300 million doses each from Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc., each of which have a two-shot vaccine. Altogether, it’s enough for 500 million people. There are currently about 330 million Americans.
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