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Company at heart of J&J vaccine woes has series of citations

   April 1, 2021 2:15 AM
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by RICHARD LARDNER and LINDA JOHNSON

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Johnson & Johnson discard an unknown amount of its coronavirus vaccines
 
The company at the center of quality problems that led Johnson & Johnson to discard an unknown amount of its coronavirus vaccine has a string of citations from U.S. health officials for quality control problems.

Emergent BioSolutons, a little-known company at the center of the vaccine supply chain, was a key to Johnson & Johnson's plan to deliver 100 million doses of its vaccine to the U.S. by the end of May. But the company has been cited repeatedly by the Food and Drug Administration for problems such as poorly trained employees, cracked vials and mold around one of its facilities, according to records obtained by The Associated Press through the Freedom of Information Act. The records cover inspections at Emergent facilities since 2017.

Johnson & Johnson said Wednesday that a batch of vaccine made by Emergent at its Baltimore factory, known as Bayview, can't be used because it didn't meet quality standards. It wasn't clear exactly how many doses were involved or how the problem would affect future delivers of J&J's vaccine. The company said in a statement it was still planning to deliver 100 million doses by the end of June and was "aiming to deliver those doses by the end of May."

J&J locked arms with Emergent in April 2020, enlisting the lesser-known company to manufacture the vaccine J&J was developing with federal funding. At the time, Emergent's Bayview facility wasn't scaled for making millions of doses of a potential COVID-19 vaccine, according to the FDA records that describe the plant as a contract testing laboratory that "did not manufacture products for distribution." Upgrades in technology and personnel were required before Bayview could begin making what's known as "drug substance" material for the vaccine, a two-month process during which the required biological cells are grown.

The FDA inspected Emergent's Bayview plant in April 2020, just as the agreement with J&J was being announced. The federal agency criticized the company for problems with its testing of a potential treatment for anthrax, according to the records obtained by the AP. The FDA's lead investigator cited the company for failing to train employees "in the particular operations they perform as part of their function and current good manufacturing practices."

On the same day, Johnson & Johnson, in a separate news release, heralded its partnership with Emergent as a step toward the pharmaceutical giant's goal of supplying more than 1 billion doses of the vaccine globally by the end of 2021.

Other problems cited by the FDA during the April 2020 inspection included failures by the Bayview plant "to ensure that electronically held data generated during analytical testing" of material "was protected from deletion or manipulation." The FDA's lead investigator, Marcellinus Dordunoo, wrote that Emergent hadn't investigated what he described as "data integrity concerns."

The inspection was the most recent in a series of critical reports from the FDA about Emergent, including one following a December 2017 inspection at a plant in Canton, Massachusetts, in which the FDA said the company hadn't corrected "continued low level mold and yeast isolates" found in the facility. Nearly a year later, agency investigators questioned why Emergent had "an unwritten policy of not conducting routine compliance audits" at a separate plant in Baltimore, known as Camden, where an anthrax vaccine is filled into vials.

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