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See the latest news and updates about COVID-19 and its impact on the Charlotte region, the Carolinas and beyond.

North Carolina Plant To Help Manufacture COVID-19 Vaccines

The first doses of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine arrived at Atrium Health on March 8.
Courtesy Atrium Health
The first doses of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine arrived at Atrium Health on March 8.

A manufacturing plant in Durham run by the pharmaceutical company Merck will help produce Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine. This comes after Merck announced in early March that it would partner with Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson to supplement the company’s vaccine production.

The Durham plant, which employs roughly 1,000 people, “is preparing to produce bulk drug substance for Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine,” Merck said in a statement to WFAE on Thursday. A second Merck facility, located in West Point, Pennsylvania, will prepare, formulate and fill vials of vaccine.

Merck said it had already been adding staff at some of its sites and “may continue to do so as we scale up to produce J&J’s vaccine.”

Merck and Johnson & Johnson are normally competitors. When White House press secretary Jen Psaki announced in early March that the two companies would be working together she called it “an unprecedented historic step,” NPR reported.

“The U.S. government will facilitate this partnership in several key ways, including invoking the Defense Production Act to equip two Merck facilities to the standards necessary to safely manufacture the vaccine,” Psaki said.

The Food and Drug Administration authorized Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine for emergency use near the end of February, making it the third authorized vaccine against COVID-19 in the U.S. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, unlike the vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, only requires one dose and does not need to be kept in ultra-cold freezers.

According to NPR, Johnson & Johnson is under contract to deliver 100 million doses by June. Merck had been developing its own COVID-19 vaccine candidates but it announced on Jan. 25 that it was discontinuing the effort following disappointing Phase 1 clinical trial results.

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Claire Donnelly is WFAE's health reporter. She previously worked at NPR member station KGOU in Oklahoma and also interned at WBEZ in Chicago and WAMU in Washington, D.C. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and attended college at the University of Virginia, where she majored in Comparative Literature and Spanish. Claire is originally from Richmond, Virginia. Reach her at cdonnelly@wfae.org or on Twitter @donnellyclairee.