Major Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 Vaccine Blunder, Explained

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Apr. 1 2021, Published 11:29 a.m. ET

The quality and safety of the COVID-19 vaccine are very important. Despite the speed at which companies have managed to develop their own variants, testing and control remain pivotal. Johnson & Johnson knows this firsthand, although they're currently on the wrong side of the equation. Their production company, Emergent BioSolutions, has contaminated up to 15 million doses.

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How did this happen and what does it mean for the future of Americans hoping for Johnson & Johnson's single-shot COVID-19 vaccine (or any vaccine at all)? 

Emergent BioSolutions didn't provide a solution for Johnson & Johnson.

It seems that Emergent BioSolutions is a bit of a misnomer. The company is a manufacturing partner for both Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca, so they've played a key role in the supply chain for COVID-19 vaccines. It seems that the Johnson & Johnson vaccines were contaminated with AstraZeneca vaccines, which ultimately ruined the batch.

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The AstraZeneca vaccine hasn't been approved by the FDA for use in the U.S. yet. However, even if it had been approved, contaminating one company's vaccine with another would have still ruined the batch.

Now, vaccine shipments within the U.S. are being delayed, which will lead to stress in some states. 

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Contaminated Johnson & Johnson vaccines are contained.

None of the contaminated Johnson & Johnson vaccines ever made it out into the world, so individuals who are already vaccinated with the single-dose shot (or plan to be soon) don't have to worry. For those who haven't made an appointment yet, there might be more of a delay.

Emergent BioSolutions has experienced quality issues before.

The issue that recently came to light isn't the first blunder that Emergent has experienced. The FDA has been on their case numerous times for issues like "poorly trained employees, cracked vials, and mold around one of its facilities," according to CNBC

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That isn't exactly calming for Americans who are nervous about the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as well as a new vaccine whose long-term effects are unknown. Mistakes like this cater to the "anti-vaxxing" trend among parents and non-parents. In 2015, 94 percent of parents said that it was important to vaccinate their children. The number went down to just 84 percent by 2019.

Some people have questioned Emergent's intentions from the get-go. The company isn't a stranger to lobbying for federal contracts. In 2020, the company spent $3.6 million on governmental lobbying. Over the course of the Trump administration, Emergent saw its annual revenue boom from about half a billion dollars to $1.5 billion. 

The real impact of 15 million vaccines lost

Emergent is located in Baltimore. The city is home to about 600,000 people, 68.2 percent of whom are people of color. A full 15 million shots could vaccinate the entire city 25 times over.

If anything, this shows how critical the number of vaccines lost really is. In an era where we often speak of millions of lives lost and billions of dollars made, the meaning can get lost in the noise. 

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