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© Reuters. Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is administered in Bay Shore, NY

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By Carl O’Donnell and Jarrett Renshaw

NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. states need to “rally together” to maintain safety measures like social distancing and mask-wearing even as the federal government helps ramp up the production and delivery of vaccines, the White House said on Wednesday.

White House senior adviser Andy Slavitt said the federal government is planning to spend $100 million to help the joint partnership between Merck & Co and rival Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:) accelerate vaccine production.

The infusion will help Johnson & Johnson ramp up its production of vaccines, Slavitt said. The company was contracted to deliver 200 million doses to the federal government by the end of May and roughly a billion doses globally by end-2021.

“Over time we believe Merck will be able to double the capacity of Johnson & Johnson,” Slavitt said.

Slavitt said while the increased production is good news, he urged states like Texas to reconsider recent decisions to lift mask mandates and allow businesses to fully open without restrictions.

There are health officials in every state who feel “now is the wrong time to lift the mask mandate,” Slavitt said. “Hopefully, the country will continue to rally together on this front.”

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