US Ends Vaccine Deal With J&J Manufacturer Months After Millions of Doses Found Contaminated

Problems with vaccines at the maker's plant have caused monthslong delays in production

The Emergent BioSolutions plan
Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images

A vaccine contract has been ended between the federal government and manufacturer Emergent BioSolutions, a Maryland-based company with facilities in Baltimore, which produced millions of contaminated Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses that had to be thrown out this spring.

Emergent said in a statement on Thursday that its near decade-long deal with the Department of Health and Human Services to produce vaccines for the government came to a close on Nov. 1. The company has other contracts it will continue to work on with the U.S., and it will keep making J&J doses in a separate, commercial deal.

The biopharmaceutical company also said in the statement that the decision to end the agreement was mutual, and in a separate statement to NBC News, contradicted a report from The New York Times and other media outlets that the government had canceled the contract.

The New York Times had reported that Emergent executives told investors in a conference call Thursday that its contract was over, and that it would forgo about $180 million due to the contract’s termination.

An Emergent spokesperson told NBC News that it had proposed ending contract in mid-October.

The agreement between Emergent and HHS began under the Obama administration in 2012, and was designed to prepare for the mass production of a vaccine to combat a future novel virus. The company then played a role in the Trump administration's vaccine development and distribution plan in Operation Warp Speed. But after winning a contract from the previous administration, Emergent quickly ran into production problems.

In March, ingredients intended for use in producing the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine shots contaminated 15 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The problems with the vaccines caused a monthslong delay in production.

Johnson & Johnson announced they had to throw away 15 million doses of their COVID-19 vaccine after a mistake at a Baltimore production facility operated by Emergent BioSolutions.

After that, the Biden administration put Johnson & Johnson in direct control of vaccine production there.

In June, the Food and Drug Administration decided to discard at least another 60 million additional doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine produced at the plant.

The lapses at the Bayview factory in Baltimore hampered J&J’s efforts to be a major player in vaccinating people, particularly in remote areas and poor countries. It only requires one dose and standard refrigeration and it's also cheaper than some other vaccines.

The FDA has repeatedly cited Emergent in the past for problems such as poorly trained employees, cracked vials and problems managing mold and other contamination around one of its facilities, according to records obtained by The Associated Press.

The FDA has allowed roughly 100 million doses to be released for potential use from the Baltimore factory.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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