WASHINGTON - President Joe Biden said Tuesday during a COVID-19 briefing that he expects the country will have enough vaccines available for all adults by the end of May — two months earlier than anticipated.
The news comes on the heels of the FDA’s emergency approval of Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose vaccine, adding to the supply being distributed across the country already by Pfizer and Moderna.
Biden also announced Tuesday that drugmaker Merck & Co. will help produce rival J&J’s vaccine in an effort to expand the supply more quickly.
"Two of the largest health care and pharmaceutical companies in the world — that are usually competitors — are working together on the vaccine," he said. "This is the type of collaboration between companies we saw in World War II."
J&J Vice President Richard Nettles told lawmakers on Capitol Hill last week that the company had faced "significant challenges" because of its "highly complex" manufacturing process. Assistance from Merck is expected to help J&J meet its production commitments and expand supply even further.
Merck halted its own plans to develop a coronavirus vaccine earlier this year, finding that its candidates were generating an inferior immune system response compared with other vaccines. It said it would instead focus its work on developing treatments for COVID-19.
Biden on Tuesday also directed states to prioritize vaccinating all teachers over the next few weeks. Biden said his goal is for every pre-kindergarten through 12th grade educator, school staff member and childcare worker to receive at least one shot by the end of March.
To achieve this, Biden announced that qualifying individuals will be able to sign up this month to be vaccinated at a pharmacy near them.
More than 800,000 doses of the J&J vaccine will be distributed this week to pharmacies to administer in a separate federally-run program that also includes 2.4 million doses of the other two shots. Both figures are expected to steadily increase, as the White House increasingly looks to the capacity of pharmacy chains like CVS and Walgreens to help speed the nation's mass vaccination campaign.
At the end of his news conference, Biden was asked when he expects operations in the country to return to "normal."
"I’ve been cautioned not to give an answer to that because we don’t know for sure. But my hope is, by this time next year we’re going to be back to normal and before that — my hope," Biden said. "But, again, it depends upon if people continue to be smart and understand that we still can have significant losses. There’s a lot we have to do yet."
Over the last few weeks, the number of coronavirus cases and deaths have continued to decline amid increased efforts to get the American population vaccinated. But public health officials have stressed that the trajectory of the pandemic is still concerning, as emerging variants of COVID-19 could be stalling progress in beating the virus back.
More 28.6 million cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in the U.S. and 515,000 related deaths as of Tuesday, data from Johns Hopkins University shows.
Nearly 77 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This story was reported from Detroit. Kelly Hayes and The Associated Press contributed