Johnson & Johnson Plant Mix-Up Ruins 15 Million Doses Of COVID Vaccine

by Christina Marfice
Thiago Prudêncio/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty

Johnson & Johnson may not be able to deliver the 24 million vaccine doses it promised for the next month, after a manufacturing error ruined doses at a Baltimore plant

COVID-19 vaccination efforts in the U.S. are moving smoothly, for the most part, as at least 46 states are poised to meet or exceed President Joe Biden’s goal to open eligibility to all adults by May 1. That goal was set based on deals negotiated by the government to secure enough doses to vaccinate the entire U.S. population by May. But now, some of those doses may be delayed after a manufacturing error at a plant in Baltimore resulted in as many as 15 million contaminated vaccines.

The one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine has so far been manufactured only in the Netherlands, but 24 million doses promised to be delivered to the U.S. in the next month were planned to be manufactured at a new plant in Baltimore. However, workers at the plant reportedly mixed up ingredients for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and the one produced by AstraZeneca, contaminating doses so they cannot be used.

“Quality control process identified one batch of drug substance that did not meet quality standards at Emergent BioSolutions, a site not yet authorized to manufacture drug substance for our COVID-19 vaccine,” a statement from Johnson & Johnson said on Wednesday. According to federal officials, the mistake has been attributed to human error.

The error doesn’t affect any of the Johnson & Johnson vaccines that have already been distributed, as they came from a different plant in the Netherlands. The affected doses have been quarantined at the plant and none of them were shipped to any distributors. However, the Baltimore plant was supposed to produce most of the 24 million doses Johnson & Johnson has promised to distribute in the next month, and now it’s unclear if that’s going to be able to happen.

Luckily, Pfizer is shipping doses of its vaccine ahead of schedule, and Moderna is seeking approval to deliver vials that hold 15 doses instead of the current 10. Because of the efforts of those two companies, even without next month’s shipments of the Johnson & Johnson shot, the U.S. should have enough supply to vaccinate all adults by May 1.

The May 1 goal was endorsed by President Biden, who has said in recent remarks that his administration will be providing a COVID vaccine site within five miles of 90 percent of Americans by April 19, even earlier than the prior benchmark. “For the vast, vast majority of adults, you won’t have to wait until May 1. You’ll be eligible for your shot on April 19,” the President said during a press conference on Monday focused on his administration’s response to the pandemic and vaccine efforts nationwide.

Johnson & Johnson has promised to closely monitor the plant in Baltimore, which is run by a contractor, and have more of its own staff present to oversee vaccine production. Before production at the Baltimore plant can begin again, it will need to pass an inspection by federal regulators.