Sharp drop in J&J vaccine delivery in the US next week: CDC data

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Vials with Covid-19 vaccine stickers attached and syringes with the logo of US pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson

Deliveries of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine in the United States are set to drop off sharply next week, health authorities said Friday, after one of the company's plants suffered severe disruption.

"We do expect week-to-week lower levels until the plant is approved by the FDA," said Jeff Zients, the White House coordinator for the response to the coronavirus outbreak, referring to the Food and Drug Administration.

The number of J&J shots distributed to states will fall from 4.9 million in the week ending April 5 to just 700,000 by the week ending April 12, according to data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The company had promised to deliver "at or near" 100 million of its one-shot doses by the end of May, and Zients said it was still committed to meeting that target.

But last week it emerged that a batch of some 15 million doses had been accidentally spoiled at a plant in Baltimore.

Ingredients meant to be used in another vaccine, made by AstraZeneca, were mixed up with those destined for the J&J shot, The New York Times reported.

The mix-up was detected during quality controls and the defective doses never left the factory, which is still waiting to be officially authorized to supply the vaccine.

Since then, production of AstraZeneca's vaccine has been moved away from the Baltimore plant, managed by partner company Emergent BioSolutions, and J&J officials have been dispatched to oversee operations.

Johnson & Johnson said Saturday it was "assuming full responsibility" for the incident, vowing to work in "full cooperation" with the FDA to obtain authorization to produce its vaccine in the Baltimore facility.

Johnson & Johnson's vaccine, which has the major logistical advantage of being administered in a single dose, was granted emergency use authorization in the United States at the end of February, following approval for rivals Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna.

J&J delivered 20 million doses in March to the United States, meeting its production target, and "24 million is the target that the company has committed to for April," Zients noted last week.

"Moderna and Pfizer are now in a steady cadence [of delivery], week to week. That's not something that Johnson & Johnson has yet achieved," he said.

"But once they receive the authorization, the company believes that it will be able to achieve that eight million per week cadence," Zients said Friday.

He declined to speculate on how long that might take.

President Joe Biden said at the beginning of March that the United States would double its orders from the company, purchasing 100 million doses in addition to the 100 million already on contract, but has not raised the issue again since then.