Findings, music, and occasional reflections by Paul Woodward

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How Emergent BioSolutions put an ‘extraordinary burden’ on the U.S.’s troubled stockpile

The New York Times reports:

A year ago, President Donald J. Trump declared a national emergency, promising a wartime footing to combat the coronavirus. But as Covid-19 spread unchecked, sending thousands of dying people to the hospital, desperate pleas for protective masks and other medical supplies went unanswered.

Health workers resorted to wearing trash bags. Fearful hospital officials turned away sick patients. Governors complained about being left in the lurch. Today the shortage of basic supplies, alongside inadequate testing and the slow vaccine rollout, stands as a symbol of the broken federal response to a worldwide calamity that has killed more than a half-million Americans.

Explanations about what went wrong have devolved into partisan finger pointing, with Mr. Trump blaming the Obama administration for leaving the cupboard bare, and Democrats in Congress accusing Mr. Trump of negligence.

An investigation by The New York Times found a hidden explanation: Government purchases for the Strategic National Stockpile, the country’s emergency medical reserve where such equipment is kept, have largely been driven by the demands and financial interests of a handful of biotech firms that have specialized in products that address terrorist threats rather than infectious disease.

Chief among them is Emergent BioSolutions, a Maryland-based company now manufacturing Covid-19 vaccines for AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson. Last year, as the pandemic raced across the country, the government paid Emergent $626 million for products that included vaccines to fight an entirely different threat: a terrorist attack using anthrax. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times also reports:

The Biden administration on Saturday put Johnson & Johnson in charge of a Baltimore contract plant that ruined 15 million doses of its Covid-19 vaccine, and moved to stop the facility from making another vaccine, developed by AstraZeneca, senior federal health officials said.

The extraordinary move by the Department of Health and Human Services will leave the Emergent BioSolutions facility solely devoted to making the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine and is meant to avoid future mix-ups, according to two senior federal health officials. Johnson & Johnson confirmed the changes, saying it was “assuming full responsibility” for the vaccine made by Emergent.

The change came in response to the recent disclosure that Emergent, a manufacturing partner to both AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, accidentally mixed up the ingredients from the two different vaccines, which forced regulators to delay authorization of the plant’s production lines. [Continue reading…]

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