Health and Science

J&J has only a few million Covid vaccine doses ready as it nears U.S. launch, Biden official says

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Key Points
  • Johnson & Johnson won't have "a big inventory" of its Covid-19 vaccine ready ahead of its regulatory clearance expected this month, Jeff Zients, President Joe Biden's Covid czar, said Wednesday.
  • The administration has learned in the last couple of weeks that J&J will have only "a few million" doses ready when the vaccine is likely authorized by the FDA, Zients said.
  • Federal and state health officials were expecting vaccine supply to rapidly increase after the emergency use authorization of J&J's vaccine.
Johnson & Johnson Coronavirus vaccine illustration
Dado Ruvic | Reuters

Johnson & Johnson will not have "a big inventory" of its Covid-19 vaccine ready ahead of its regulatory clearance expected this month, President Joe Biden's Covid czar said Wednesday.

Jeff Zients said the administration has learned in the last couple of weeks that J&J will have only "a few million" doses manufactured when its single-shot vaccine is likely authorized by the Food and Drug Administration.

Federal and state health officials were expecting vaccine supply to rapidly increase after the emergency use authorization of J&J's vaccine. The FDA has scheduled a meeting of its Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee on Feb. 26 to discuss the vaccine, and the U.S. could authorize the vaccine as early as the next day.

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J&J currently has a deal with the U.S. government to supply 100 million doses of its vaccine by the end of June, said Zients, the president's Covid-19 response coordinator. Assuming the vaccine is authorized, the Biden administration will work with J&J to ramp up supply as quickly as possible, he said, adding U.S. officials hope many of those doses will be available in the early months of its rollout.

"We're doing everything we can working with the company to accelerate the delivery schedule," Zients told reporters during a White House news briefing on the pandemic. 

The news comes as the Biden administration works to ramp up the supply of doses after states complained that demand for the shots was rapidly outpacing supply. Roughly 39.7 million out of some 331 million Americans have received at least their first dose of Pfizer's or Moderna's two-dose vaccines, according to data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And 15 million of those people have already gotten their second shot.

Biden announced Thursday that the U.S. had secured 100 million more doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and 100 million more of the Moderna vaccine, increasing the total U.S. supply to 600 million doses. Because the vaccines require two doses, a total of 600 million doses would be enough to inoculate 300 million Americans.

On Tuesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki announced that the Biden administration was increasing the number of Covid-19 vaccine doses shipped to states weekly, sending out 13.5 million doses this week and doubling the number going to retail pharmacies.

Dr. Anthony Fauci said Tuesday that most Americans will have access to a Covid-19 vaccine by mid- to late May or early June, a slight delay compared with earlier predictions of late March and April.

The White House chief medical advisor said the federal government was expecting "considerably more" initial doses from J&J.

"I'm a little disappointed that the number of doses that we're going to get early on from J&J are relatively small, but as we get further into the spring there will be more and more," Fauci said.

Meanwhile, Pfizer and Moderna are looking into whether their vaccines can prevent transmission of the virus, he said Wednesday, adding early studies are pointing in a "favorable direction."