However, Johnson & Johnson and its partners lagged behind making them. The company was supposed to be dropping off its first 37 million cans by the end of March, but said it could only drop off 20 million cans as of that date, making Biden’s aides nervous.
In late January, Jeffrey D. Zients, Mr. Biden’s coronavirus response coordinator, and Dr. David Kessler, who manages vaccine distribution for the White House, to senior company officials, including Alex Gorsky, whose executive director sent blunt message: This is unacceptable.
This resulted in a series of negotiations in February during which administration officials repeatedly pressured Johnson & Johnson to accept that they needed help and, according to two administration officials involved in the discussions, called on Merck to be part of the solution.
In a statement on Tuesday, Merck said the federal government would pay up to $ 269 million to customize and provision existing facilities to manufacture coronavirus vaccines. Michael T. Nally, executive vice president of human health at Merck, said in an interview that the company has had discussions with several companies and governments, including representatives of the former Trump administration.
“I think we all realize that every day counts,” he said.
Mr Nally declined to provide an estimate of the number of doses of vaccine the company could ultimately produce, saying only that it would be “significant”. However, Merck’s expanded range will probably only be available months later.
A federal official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said other steps the administration was taking would extend Johnson & Johnson’s production schedule.
These steps included providing a team of experts to oversee manufacturing and logistical support from the Department of Defense, according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki. In addition, the President will use the Defense Production Act, a law dating back to the Korean War, to give Johnson & Johnson access to supplies needed to manufacture and package vaccines.