If you had any stock in Emergent BioSolutions, I hope you managed to sell it before Thursday. After they encountered repeated problems in producing the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, primarily at their Baltimore, Maryland facility, the federal government has canceled a huge deal with the company. Emergent expects to lose out on nearly $200 million in federal payments for producing the vials of vaccine, though J&J still has other companies that are able to continue production. The company had already developed a track record for physical failures in producing the vaccine, as well as an inability to provide all of the required paperwork to obtain FDA approval for the products in a timely fashion. The company announced the bad news during a conference call on Thursday. (Associated Press)

The federal government has canceled a multimillion dollar deal with Emergent BioSolutions, a Maryland-based vaccine manufacturer with facilities in Baltimore that were found to have produced millions of contaminated Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses this spring, the Washington Post reported.

Emergent disclosed the development Thursday in a conference call discussing its latest financial results, the Post reported. Emergent said it will forgo about $180 million due to the contract’s termination, according to the Post.

Emergent BioSolutions played a role in the Trump administration’s effort to speed up vaccine development and distribution. But after winning a contract from the previous administration, Emergent quickly ran into production problems.

As early as March of this year, millions of vials produced at the Baltimore plant were found to have contained contaminants of various sorts. After that, the Biden administration placed Johnson & Johnson in direct control of production, but that didn’t clear up all of the issues.

By June, the FDA ordered more than 60 million doses produced in Baltimore to be discarded amid quality control and safety concerns. When the FDA returned for additional inspections at Emergent during the summer, they cited them for continued evidence of mold and other contamination in the manufacturing facility. They also reported workers who were insufficiently trained in the production process and gaps in the manufacturing and testing reports that were supposed to be filed with the agency.

The entire mess has caused J&J to lag behind both Moderna and Pfizer in both the approval and distribution processes. And that has been bad news for the vaccine distribution effort. The J&J shots don’t have to be kept in the frigid temperatures that the other two approved doses require during transportation and storage. That fact alone made them more attractive for use in rural areas where such extreme storage environments might not be available. It also made J&J more viable to ship to less-developed nations where no such storage is possible in some regions.

This news comes just as J&J was dealt another blow on the same day with the release of a new study from the Public Health Institute. They tracked the decline in the efficacy of the three primary vaccines over time in more than 780,000 veterans who had been vaccinated. Over a six month period, the decrease in protection for those given the J&J shot was drastically sharper than the other two.

Researchers found that protection against any COVID-19 infection declined for all vaccine types, with overall vaccine protection declining from 87.9% in February to 48.1% by October 2021.

The decline was greatest for the Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine, with protection against infection declining from 86.4% in March to 13.1% in September
Declines for PfizerBioNTech were from 86.9% to 43.3%
Declines for Moderna were 89.2% to 58%.

It’s bad enough that the Pfizer shot’s efficacy fell below 50% in six months. But those with the J&J jab averaged only 13%, which is barely better than being unvaccinated. That might be something to keep in mind if you’re among the vaccinated and considering getting a booster. The same institute is reportedly working on a similar study comparing the natural immunity acquired by survivors of COVID as compared to those who are vaccinated. When we get those results we’ll revisit the question.

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