WASHINGTON — Workers at a plant in Baltimore manufacturing two coronavirus vaccines accidentally conflated the ingredients several weeks ago, contaminating as many as 15 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine and forcing regulators to delay authorization of the plant’s production lines.
The plant is run by Emergent BioSolutions, a manufacturing partner to both Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca, the British-Swedish company whose vaccine has yet to be authorized for use in the United States. Federal officials attributed the mistake to human error.
The mix-up has delayed future shipments of Johnson & Johnson doses in the United States while the Food and Drug Administration investigates what occurred. Johnson & Johnson has moved to strengthen its control over Emergent BioSolutions’ work to avoid additional quality lapses.
The mistake is a major embarrassment both for Johnson & Johnson, whose one-dose vaccine has been credited with speeding up the national immunization program, and for Emergent, its subcontractor, which has faced fierce criticism for its heavy lobbying for federal contracts, especially for the government’s emergency health stockpile.
President Biden’s commitment to provide enough vaccine to immunize every adult by the end of May. The two other federally authorized manufacturers, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, are continuing to deliver as expected.
Pfizer is shipping its doses ahead of schedule, and Moderna is on the verge of winning approval to deliver vials of vaccine packed with up to 15 doses instead of 10, further bolstering the nation’s stock.
The problems arose in a new plant that the federal government enlisted last year to produce both Johnson & Johnson’s and AstraZeneca’s vaccines. Both use similar technology in which genes unique to the coronavirus are shuttled into human cells, where they cause the immune system to produce antibodies.
according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.