The Biden White House has brokered a highly unusual deal among two would-be corporate competitors in an effort to substantially increase COVID-19 vaccine supply across the nation, according to The Washington Post.
The deal involves pharmaceutical behemoth Merck helping to manufacture the newly approved vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson. White House officials told the Post they began looking to supercharge production of the one-shot vaccine after they learned in the early days of the administration that Johnson & Johnson was faltering on its ability to deliver to the vaccine. Merck had already failed in its own efforts to engineer a vaccine, making it the perfect company with sizable enough capacity to be a potential game-changer in the supply chain.
UPDATE: President Biden announces the country will have enough vaccine supply for 300 million Americans by the end of May—an acceleration of 2 months over its prior estimate.
President Biden is expected to announce the deal late on Tuesday that is poised to boost the administration’s race to get ahead of the virus’ faster-spreading variants from the United Kingdom and South Africa. It’s also the type of business partnership amid a national crisis that would make most establishment Republicans drool—that is, if their party were willing to admit the coronavirus is real and that losing half a million Americans to it is indeed a national crisis.
“It’s a historic partnership,” one senior administration official told the Post. That official said the companies “recognize this is a wartime effort” and praised their sense of “corporate citizenship.”
Merck has agreed to dedicate two of its U.S. facilities to streamlining production and delivery of Johnson & Johnson shots. One facility will be focused on what’s called “fill-finish” services, where vials are filled with the vaccine and packaged for delivery. The other facility will actually be involved in vaccine production, which could potentially double the vaccine supply of what Johnson & Johnson would otherwise be able to produce on its own, according to the Post. The timetable for getting Merck equipped for production and delivery was expected to take several months. Administration officials said Biden would invoke the Defense Production Act in order to get Merck immediate access to the equipment it needs in order to fulfill its end of the deal.
The 2022 election cycle could well come down to how many shots the Biden administration gets into American arms how quickly and whether that allows businesses and schools to safely reopen and get the economy humming again. If Americans feel some sense of normalcy has returned to their daily lives by the summer before the midterms, Democrats will be poised to make a strong case to voters that their leadership turned the tide on the worst public health crisis in a century. Turning two giant corporate competitors into partners in that effort is the type of innovation that could set Democrats up to claim that mantle.