Merck-Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine deal gives NYC a booster of hope, de Blasio says

File photo/Dean Moses

As New York City rounds the two million vaccination mark this week, it seems pharmaceutical companies are learning to play nice at the behest of the Biden administration and ramp up production together. 

“Three companies only is not the way to defeat this virus,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio, in his morning briefing on Tuesday, March 2.

De Blasio, who has been harping from his virtual soapbox about using the Defense Production Act for some time, said that bringing in more companies is an important step to getting the much needed vaccine supply.

Merck & Co, a 125-year-old pharmaceutical company, attempted to make their own SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 vaccine but announced on Jan. 25 that they were discontinuing its development. They cited that their vaccine versions “were generally well tolerated” in the studies, but not that great overall in terms of immune response for patients.

Fast forward to March, and the White House has now teamed up Merck & Co with “rival” Johnson & Johnson (J&J) to mass produce their much more successful one-shot COVID-vaccine. Merck has agreed to provide two facilities to manufacture the vaccines, reported The New York Times

This comes after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted emergency authorization to the J & J vaccine to join the already circulating Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. Collectively the companies have pledged to create “enough doses to inoculate at least 220 million of the roughly 260 million eligible adults” in the U. S. by the end of May, said The Times.

It couldn’t have come sooner seeing as the Department of Health & Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) said it’s found some specimens of the highly transmissible variant strains of COVID through it’s testing and trace sites.

Last week, said DOHMH, an estimated 7.9% of samples taken in the city were B.1.1.7, or the UK variant as it is usually referred to. As of Feb. 28, 2 cases were identified as B.1.351, the variant first detected in South Africa.

“People are worried very naturally about whether or not they should be doing something different, it’s very reasonable,” said Senior Advisor for Public Health at the Office of the Mayor Jay K. Varma. “Right now the answer is clear that there is nothing different that we need people to do in New York.”

Varma said to protect against the COVID-19 strain and variants, keep wearing a well fitting mask or two, wash your hands, get tested, and when your turn comes, get vaccinated. He said that current vaccines were still “the single best” way to fight the variants and have proven efficacy as well.

De Blasio said that he’s also advocating to expand eligibility for the vaccine category to include sanitation workers, city inspectors, courtroom staff, lifeguards, Board of Elections staff, and housing and NYCHA staff.

Meanwhile, prominent Bronx officials are continuing to target hard hit areas by opening another vaccination site in Co-Op City this Thursday.

“I’m going to keep talking about this, New York City is still not getting our fair share of the vaccine. We need it. And the Bronx in particular needs it,” said de Blasio.

Bronx/Westchester Congressman Jamaal Bowman said that they’ve been calling for additional help to meet the needs of the community.

“I represent the Northeast Bronx as well as lower Westchester, two areas that were greatly hit hard by COVID, and continue to be hit hard by COVID,” said Bowman. “While the numbers across the city have gone down, the numbers remain high, way too high in these areas. As you know Co-Op city is a NORC, a Naturally Occurring Retirement Community, the biggest in the world.” 

Bronx state Senator Jamaal T. Bailey seconded that sentiment. He said for so long the Bronx has been “last” in what they needed. 

“We have not been provided for, we have not been taken care of, specifically in Co-Op City,” said Bailey. “It is the home to a lot of workers, a lot of essential workers, a lot of individuals in our community who quite frankly were going to work when we didn’t have to.”

More from around NYC