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Coronavirus update: Merck to produce J&J vaccines; CDC launches vaccine finder

Anjalee Khemlani
·Senior Reporter
·3-min read

Merck (MRK) is stepping up to help Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) produce its COVID-19 vaccine, which was authorized last weekend.

President Joe Biden announced the historic partnership on Tuesday, as a result of J&J falling behind in its vaccine production, leaving the U.S. with an uneven rollout of its vaccines.

"Two of the largest healthcare and pharmaceutical companies in the world — that are usually competitors — are working together on the vaccine," Biden said.

J&J is offering all 3.9 million of its already-produced doses this week, with the first batch of deliveries being received Tuesday around the country. The remainder of the 20 million promised by the end of the month will come in the back half of the month, senior White House officials said Monday.

The Biden administration played a central role in brokering the deal between the two pharmaceutical rivals, including invoking the Defense Production Act (DPA) to help Merck get access to the materials and equipment it needs.

Biden said Tuesday two Merck facilities will be equipped to assist in the production, meanwhile J&J will begin running its plants 24 hours 7 days a week.

"Here’s what all this means: We’re now on track to have enough vaccine supply for every adult in America by the end of May," Biden said.

Whether or not all those doses will be administered, amid significant vaccine hesitancy in some pockets and among some demographics in the country, remains to be seen.

Partnerships among competitors is just one solution to responding to the unprecedented demand for vaccines. Sanofi (SNY) — whose vaccine partnership with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) similarly hasn't progressed—previously partnered with Pfizer (PFE) and BioNTech (BNTX) to make their vaccine. Novavax (NVAX) has inked several contracts with global manufacturers, like Takeda (TAK) in Japan.

J&J is currently slated to produce 100 million doses for the U.S. and has committed 500 million doses globally through the World Health Organization's COVAX program.

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Vaccine appointments

Meanwhile, getting an appointment for a COVID-19 vaccine remains a problem in many parts of the country, even as the weekly average of administered doses recovers after winter weather disrupted shipments last week.

To help streamline the vaccination process, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control launched such a centralized system, the Vaccine Finder, to track supply and determine which locations near and in zip codes are administering shots.

The urgency to make vaccines available and easily accessible comes as variants continue to spread, concerning senior health officials about another wave.

The move from the federal level comes as tech platforms have stepped up to aggregate notifications of available appointments, authorized sites, and locations of new sites.

It's why one tech platform, GoodRx (GDRX), known for its discounted drugs and other health services, has deployed a team of engineers to create and track vaccine appointments and sites. The company plans to plug into existing sites, such as those for retail pharmacies, to create a national hub, according to co-founder and co-CEO Doug Hirsch.

"The vaccine-finder guys are providing ... a list of potential options, and we're on top of that," Hirsch told Yahoo Finance, adding that an extra layer is being built to be able to notify where appointments are available via text in real time.

The company has been working on the platform for the past two months and is in talks with retail pharmacies, mass vaccine sites and other locations.

More from Anjalee:

  • Telehealth's future depends on bridging the digital divide: Hospital CEO

  • What you need to know about at-home, over-the-counter COVID-19 tests

  • Biden COVID-19 adviser: Vaccine news is great, but we still have a ways to go

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Follow Anjalee on Twitter @AnjKhem.