The Baltimore plant is one of two federally designated sites that were supposed to be ready to manufacture vaccines or therapeutics in the event of a public health emergency. In June 2020, the Trump administration awarded Emergent a $ 628 million contract, mainly to set aside space in Baltimore to produce vaccines against the coronavirus.
In Washington, Emergent is known for its aggressive lobbying and government relations spanning Democratic and Republican administrations. The company’s board of directors is filled with former federal officials, and its lobbyist ranks include former members of Congress.
“We’ve been working in this area for 22 years as a company,” Kramer said on Thursday’s call, adding that the company’s relationships with government agencies, including Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Agency, known as BARDA, which issued a $ 628 million contract, “stay intact and strong.”
In June 2020, shortly after the Trump administration awarded the contract to Emergent, a senior official in Operation Warp Speed, the government’s accelerated vaccination initiative, warned that the company was under-trained and had a history of quality control issues.
A copy of the official assessment, obtained by The Times, cited “key risks” in relying on Emergent to manage production of vaccines developed by both Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca at the same Baltimore plant.
Cross-contamination is a “well-known risk” when manufacturing two vaccines using live viruses, Kramer said Thursday, but the decision to produce both in Baltimore was made by the government. There were layers of safeguards in place, he said, although Emergent believes they “didn’t work as expected” and the AstraZeneca virus likely tainted the Johnson & Johnson lot.
“It’s easy to go back and question these decisions that were made at the very beginning of the pandemic,” he said. “At the time, no one knew how quickly we can get a clinically viable vaccine and which candidates would be the most successful.”