The Biden administration and COVID-19 vaccine producers are actively discussing ways to ramp up manufacturing over the next several months, including partnering with additional pharmaceutical firms to help bottle the vaccine for distribution.
According to two individuals familiar with those conversations, the Biden team has been in talks with several companies about stepping in to help in the fill and finish —the act of filling vials with vaccine—portion of the vaccine manufacturing process. Several of those companies have emerged as frontrunners and an announcement could be made in the coming days, those sources said.
Asked about the manufacturing partnership conversations, an individual working with the Biden COVID-19 team said “all options are on the table.”
Similar partnerships have already been struck in Europe. Last week Sanofi announced it had signed an agreement with Pfizer to bottle its vaccine and that 100 million doses would be available throughout the European Union by the end of the year. Sanofi is in the process of trying to develop its own COVID-19 vaccine with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). In December, the companies said the vaccine would be delayed after disappointing results in its older clinical trial patients. “We asked ourselves how we could make ourselves useful in the present, to participate to the collective effort to end this crisis as soon as possible,” Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson told Le Figaro. Politico provided a translation of the interview.
Merck also announced last week that it would stop developing both of its COVID-19 vaccine candidates, citing inadequate immune responses. The company earlier this month had announced the acquisition of AmpTec as a way to expand the company’s mRNA capabilities.
The discussions around increased U.S. manufacturing come at a time when the Biden administration is working to scale supply of the vaccine to meet growing demand for the shot. The partnership would ensure states across the country have the doses they need once the general population becomes eligible for vaccination.
Over the past several weeks, states have reported supply shortages, saying they do not have enough doses to hand out to all those who have scheduled vaccination appointments. At the same time, though, federal data shows states have not yet administered all of the doses allocated and distributed to them. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) vaccine tracker shows that nearly 50 million doses have been distributed but only 31 million have been administered. U.S. officials told The Daily Beast last week they believed millions of doses are still lost in the distribution system.
“We believe some healthcare providers are regularly holding back doses that are intended as first doses and instead keeping as second dose reserves. We understand why, but it does not need to happen and should not happen,” Andy Slavitt, a senior adviser to Biden’s COVID-19 team, told reporters Monday.
The Biden administration announced last week that it is in the process of trying to purchase an additional 200 million vaccine doses from Pfizer and Moderna as a way to ensure that 300 million Americans are vaccinated before the end of the summer. It was not immediately clear how or if those companies had taken steps to expand manufacturing beyond their current capacities.
Last week Johnson and Johnson and Novavax released their COVID-19 data. Novavax reported that its Phase 3 trial data showed the vaccine was about 90 percent effective. Johnson and Johnson said its data showed the vaccine was only 66 percent effective in protecting against the virus but 85 percent effective against preventing severe disease. Both companies' data shows the vaccines are less effective against the South African COVID-19 variant. Johnson and Johnson plans to submit an emergency use authorization request to the Federal Drug Administration. The approval of that vaccine would help ramp up the supply of the vaccine over the next several months.