One of the bright spots in the COVID-19 pandemic in recent months, despite the terrible ongoing toll, has been the prospect of a widespread vaccination program that everyone can access. Despite some setbacks and huge differences in how states are running their vaccination programs, Americans continue to get vaccinated at a rate that might have been surprising just a couple of months ago.
And then last week, President Joe Biden made an announcement that immediately stoked even more optimism — that the U.S. supply of COVID-19 vaccines was on track to be enough for every adult in the country by the end of May, as noted in a CNN article. This represents an acceleration of the original timeline announced by the Biden administration, which had previously predicted that this supply benchmark would be reached by the end of July.
It’s no mystery why the timeline got accelerated. The administration helped broker an agreement under which Merck, the U.S. pharmaceutical company, would help manufacture the recently approved vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson. With two manufacturers working together instead of competing against each other, production of the vaccine could happen at a dramatically faster rate. Merck had been working on its own COVID-19 vaccine until the end of January this year, when early studies showed disappointing immune responses to the product.
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Invocation of the Defense Production Act
The administration also announced that it was invoking the Defense Production Act — a World War II–era law that lets the federal government make certain production demands of private corporations — to help make sure that two Merck facilities could be equipped with everything needed to manufacture the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, including machinery and components of the vaccine itself.
While Johnson & Johnson initially announced that it had about four million doses of the company’s vaccine ready to ship, the new agreement with Merck means that about 20 million doses can be produced by the end of this month. But despite these rosy projections, Biden sought in last week’s announcement to dispel any notion that life will return to normal in the coming weeks.
“I have to be honest with you, this fight is far from over,” Biden said in his remarks. “Though we celebrate the news of a third vaccine, I urge all Americans, please keep washing your hands. Stay socially distanced. Wear masks, keep wearing them. Get vaccinated when it’s your turn. Now is not the time to let up.”
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