Merck to Help Make Johnson & Johnson Coronavirus Vaccine

covid-19 vaccine
Merck and Johnson & Johnson are collaborating to increase vaccine production.

Key Takeaways

  • Merck has joined forces with Johnson & Johnson to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine.
  • The collaboration will help Johnson & Johnson get more vaccines to a greater number of people in a shorter period of time.
  • Doctors applaud the move, as it will help more people get vaccinated.

This week, pharmaceutical giant Merck announced that it will help Johnson & Johnson produce its COVID-19 vaccine. The announcement came soon after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave an Emergency Use Authorization (EAU) to Johnson & Johnson for its one-shot COVID-19 vaccine.

The Merck and J&J Partnership

In a press release on March 2, Merck stated that it has entered into “multiple agreements to support efforts to expand manufacturing capacity and supply of SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 medicines and vaccines,” noting that it has received funding of up to $268.8 million from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to “adapt and make available a number of existing manufacturing facilities for the production of SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 vaccines and medicines.”

Merck revealed that it will use its existing facilities in the United States to produce the vaccine, formulate it, and fill vials with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. “We are steadfast in our commitment to contribute to the global response to the pandemic as part of the remarkable efforts of the entire medical and scientific community,” Mike Nally, executive vice president of Human Health at Merck, said in the press release.

Maria Elena Bottazzi, PhD

It's a great thing. In fact, it probably should have happened before now.

— Maria Elena Bottazzi, PhD

In a short statement on March 2, Johnson & Johnson said that it is “pleased” to be joining forces with Merck—typically a competitor. The company went on to say that it "has a long history of vaccine expertise," and that they expect the manufacturing arrangement with Johnson & Johnson will "enhance our production capacity so that we can supply beyond our current commitments."

The new arrangement comes after Merck announced that it was discontinuing its COVID-19 vaccine candidate back in January after results showed that it created an “inferior” immune response compared to those seen after natural infection and other COVID-19 vaccines. However, the company has a long history of making vaccines and has the manufacturing capacity to produce more.

An Unlikely Alliance

According to NPR, the unlikely alliance happened at the urging of government officials. "They understood this was a wartime effort. This was their legacy. This was their time,” an unnamed senior official said. The official also said that, if the companies weren’t willing to cooperate, there was the chance that the Defense Production Act—which gives the government the power to use companies to help with wartime effort—could be utilized.

John Sellick, DO

If this increases production by 20 to 50%, that will make a huge difference.

— John Sellick, DO

After the announcement, President Joe Biden announced that the U.S. will have enough vaccine doses for every American by the end of May. "That's progress," he said, per CNN. "There is light at the end of the tunnel, but we cannot let our guard down now to ensure victory is inevitable, we can't assume that. We must remain vigilant, act fast and aggressively and look out for one another. That's how we're going to get ahead of this virus, get our economy going again and get back to our loved ones."

Support From Medical Professionals

Doctors are applauding the new partnership, which will help get more shots into arms. “It’s exactly what we need to step up the volume of the vaccine,” John Sellick, DO, an infectious disease expert and a professor of medicine at the University at Buffalo/SUNY, tells Verywell.

“It’s a great thing,” Maria Elena Bottazzi, PhD, associate dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and co-director of the Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development, tells Verywell. “In fact, it probably should have happened before now.”

Setting a New Precedent?

Merck and Johnson & Johnson aren't the first to team up in the COVID-19 fight. Pfizer and BioNTech collaborated to create a joint vaccine, which became the first authorized COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S.

In April 2020, Pfizer shared in a press release that the vaccine’s mRNA platform originally came from BioNTech, although the companies collaborated on research and development, clinical trials, manufacturing, and distribution.

Vaccine makers Sanofi and GSK also joined forces in April 2020 to develop a COVID-19 vaccine.

Bottazzi calls these collaborations “game-changers,” adding that Johnson & Johnson “needs all the help they can get, supplying vaccines not only to the U.S. but to fill a pretty huge global access gap.”

Sellick is hopeful that the latest collaboration will help get more vaccines to a greater number of people. “If this increases production by 20 to 50%, that will make a huge difference. This is definitely a great piece of news.”

What This Means For You

Company collaborations like the one between Merck and Johnson & Johnson will help to get COVID-19 vaccine doses out to the general public faster. Ultimately, it may help you and your loved ones to get vaccinated sooner.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

By Korin Miller
Korin Miller is a health and lifestyle journalist who has been published in The Washington Post, Prevention, SELF, Women's Health, The Bump, and Yahoo, among other outlets.