President Joe Biden will double the US order of Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine — seeking another 100 million doses — bringing the country’s total vaccine supply to enough for 500 million people.

Biden will make the announcement Wednesday during an event with the chief executives of J&J and Merck & Co., who struck a collaboration to boost production of J&J’s recently authorized Covid-19 vaccine, officials familiar with the plan say. The US had previously ordered 100 million doses, which the company has said will be delivered before the end of June. J&J and the government will finalize the new order in the coming weeks, one official said.

The White House later confirmed the plans. “This order allows for the president to plan for the future in the latter part of the year,” Covid adviser Andy Slavitt told reporters at a briefing. “This is wartime and as facts still emerge, it gives us maximum flexibility for our upcoming needs.”

The order is a sign that the US is continuing to stockpile doses as questions arise about which vaccine will be best for children. No shots are currently authorized for use in people younger than 16, with studies under way on efficacy in older children and others expected to follow on younger ones. J&J will launch adolescent-focused clinical trials in coming weeks.

Health officials also are sounding the alarm over emerging, more-contagious variants of the virus, which could blunt the impact of some inoculations or further spur the need for booster shots.

The initial J&J order, signed in August 2020 under the Trump administration, included an option for as many as an additional 200 million doses. A J&J spokesman said the company remains on track to deliver its first 100 million doses — though it hasn’t publicly committed to delivering all or nearly all of them by May, as Biden has said. J&J has promised them by the end of June.

“The U.S. government has the option to purchase additional doses under a subsequent agreement. We look forward to any future discussions with the U.S. government and to participating in the event at the White House later today,” spokesman Jake Sargent said.

Historic Partnership

Anthony Fauci, a Biden Covid adviser who also leads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Wednesday he expects high school students to be able to be vaccinated this fall.

The new doses will be available in the second half of the year, though specific timing will be part of negotiations to finalize the deal, Slavitt said. The order follows last week’s announcement of the historic Merck and J&J partnership, which was facilitated by the Biden administration and will materially affect production of the single-shot, easily stored vaccine in the second half of the year.

The U.S. is aiding the partnership by investing in Merck’s facilities and using the Defense Production Act, a wartime power, to secure equipment, the official said. The production will eventually be distributed globally and boost global supply, the official said.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that the uncertainty around children and variants would also affect when the U.S. may share surplus doses with other nations.

“We don’t know which vaccine is most effective for children. Of course, that testing is ongoing,” Psaki said. “We still don’t know yet the impact of all of the variants, so I don’t have anything to predict for you in terms of what additional supply will be shared and when, and the process for that.”

With the order, the US is expecting 200 million doses from J&J, which is enough for 200 million people. That’s on top of 300 million doses each from Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc., both of which have a two-shot vaccine. Altogether, it’s enough for 500 million people. There are currently about 330 million Americans.

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.

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