‘Extraordinary times take extraordinary efforts’

Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky discussed Tuesday the company’s unprecedented partnership with rival Merck to boost production of its Covid-19 vaccine.

“Extraordinary times take extraordinary efforts,” Gorsky told CNBC’s Jim Cramer in a “Mad Money” interview.

“What this means is that Americans are going to get shots in the arm faster, and we’re very excited about the potential impact that this can have overall on the situation,” Gorsky said. “I think it’s another … testament to the potential that this vaccine truly has.”

Coronavirus vaccines are seen as critical in helping the country and world reach herd immunity. This would allow the U.S. to fully reopen safely after a year of lockdowns and restrictions that weighed on the economy.

J&J’s vaccine was 66% effective at preventing Covid during clinical trials. It’s also 86% effective at preventing severe illness, and it prevented 100% of virus-related hospitalizations and deaths, Gorsky said Monday on CNBC. The vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer — who worked with BioNTech to develop its inoculation — have shown to be 95% effective in protecting against the virus.

Merck will offer two U.S. facilities to help with J&J’s vaccine production as part of the agreement.

“The real war here is against Covid-19, and I couldn’t think of a better partner than Merck, a company with an incredibly strong reputation,” Gorsky said of its competitor-turned-partner. “We think it’s going to add considerably to our capabilities both near and in the long term.”

The comments came after President Joe Biden said Tuesday that the U.S. will have enough vaccines to inoculate everyone in the U.S. by the end of May. That’s two months ahead of the administration’s initial target.

The FDA cleared J&J’s single-shot Covid vaccine for emergency use over the weekend. After the company was given the go-ahead from regulators, Gorsky said J&J signed a production agreement with Merck and the federal government to accelerate vial manufacturing.

About 4 million doses of the J&J vaccine are expected to be delivered across the U.S. this week, and another 16 million doses are expected to be available by the end of March.

The partnership follows one made between two other drugmakers earlier this year. French drugmaker Sanofi said in January it would help with boosting supply of Pfizer‘s two-shot vaccine. Moderna also has a deal with Swiss company Lonza to assist in making its own two-shot vaccine.

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