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States Will Have 86% Fewer Johnson & Johnson Doses Next Week Than It Did This Week

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

All American adults are expected to be eligible to receive their COVID-19 vaccines by April 19, and the Biden administration says there should be enough doses to meet that demand by the end of May. Now, one vaccine manufacturer, Johnson & Johnson, has struggled with serious supply problems. And next week, states will have 86% fewer Johnson & Johnson doses to dole out than they did this week.

NPR's pharmaceuticals correspondent Sydney Lupkin is here to explain. And, Sydney, just give us some background. What happened at Johnson & Johnson?

SYDNEY LUPKIN, BYLINE: Sure. As you said, there is going to be a big drop in Johnson & Johnson doses going out next week. But it's not necessarily the setback that it looks like. Nothing new went wrong. Instead, there was a surge in doses this week. What happened is that one of Johnson & Johnson's third-party manufacturers was finally able to release its stockpile. The company is called Catalent, and its facility in Indiana had been working on the vaccine for a while. But it only just recently got the Food and Drug Administration's blessing to release them.

CORNISH: We'd also been hearing reports about this Baltimore facility that made headlines last week for an ingredient mix-up. Can you talk about that as well?

LUPKIN: Yes. That facility, Emergent BioSolutions, is another third-party facility that manufactures ingredients. But Emergent needs to resolve its manufacturing problems before the FDA will sign off on adding its facility to Johnson & Johnson's supply chain. Here's President Biden's COVID czar, Jeffrey Zients.

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JEFFREY ZIENTS: Johnson & Johnson expects a relatively low level of weekly dose delivery until a company secures FDA authorization.

LUPKIN: And by that, he's referring to Emergent. Johnson & Johnson is also installing a new leadership team at the Baltimore facility. Once the FDA clears that Emergent facility, Johnson & Johnson should start delivering around 8 million doses a week.

CORNISH: How many are they delivering now?

LUPKIN: 1.5 million doses are going out next week. Seven hundred thousand of those will go to the state allocation system, and the other 800,000 will be handed out through other federal programs.

CORNISH: You know, the scale of this, it's just - I mean, the manufacturing issues led to a loss of 15 million potential Johnson & Johnson doses, right? That's according to The New York Times. I mean, how hard will it be for them to get this kind of delivery system back on track?

LUPKIN: Well, Zients said that Emergent is expected to be able to increase Johnson & Johnson supply later in April, so that's when the administration seems to think the FDA will give it the green light. Ultimately, the hope is that the FDA will catch problems before vaccines get into people's arms. So while Emergent's issues are certainly a setback, it's also an example of the regulatory system working the way it's supposed to, to keep Americans safe.

CORNISH: Johnson & Johnson still says it will deliver around 100 million doses by the end of May as well. I mean, can they do it?

LUPKIN: The company definitely has its work cut out for it. It really has been behind. Its original contract said it would deliver 37 million doses by the end of March, but that goal was adjusted to just 20 million. That's why the Biden administration jumped in to get two Merck facilities working on Johnson & Johnson's vaccine. It's also using the Defense Production Act to help Merck get everything it needs to get up and running. The Department of Defense also came on board in March to provide Johnson & Johnson with daily logistical support. So there's a huge effort to get Johnson & Johnson up to speed.

CORNISH: That's NPR pharmaceuticals correspondent Sydney Lupkin. Thanks for your reporting.

LUPKIN: You bet.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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