White House Moves Vaccine Event After Critical Emergent Report

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The White House moved an event celebrating Johnson & Johnson and Merck & Co.’s collaboration on a coronavirus vaccine after the original host -- Emergent BioSolutions Inc. -- came under fire for anthrax vaccine contracts that the federal government prioritized over medical and protective supplies ahead of the pandemic.

President Joe Biden will now host the March 10 event at the White House, according to guidance released Sunday, reversing the plan announced last week to hold the festivities at Emergent in Baltimore.

“We just felt it was a more appropriate place to have the meeting, but he will look forward to discussing with them ways to work forward to continue to expedite vaccine supply and distribution to the American people,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Monday.

The New York Times reported on Saturday that the federal government over the past decade had spent nearly half of its budget for the Strategic National Stockpile on contracts with Emergent for the company’s anthrax vaccines.

That included $626 million last year, as the Trump administration said the stockpile was depleted of basic supplies like protective equipment needed as coronavirus surged throughout the country, according to the Times. Emergent executives lobbied to maintain the lucrative anthrax vaccine contracts, and federal officials prioritized the company’s contracts over planned purchases of items like N95 respirators, according to the report.

Psaki, asked about the reporting, said the Biden Administration would undertake a comprehensive review of the Strategic National Stockpile. Emergent slipped more than 5% as of 3:07 p.m. in New York.

The company said in a statement that the U.S. government “should fully fund preparedness for a wide range of threats, including pandemics and bioterrorism, and that choosing one over the other, or to partially fund everything at a low level leaves the American public dangerously exposed.”

The company said in its statement that “the country has been better prepared to respond to Covid-19” because of Emergent’s investments in pandemic preparedness and bioterrorism, “leading to our ability to rapidly ramp up the manufacture of Covid-19 vaccines, of which we are now capable of making more than one billion doses annually.”

Emergent is now helping drug companies including Johnson & Johnson to produce their coronavirus vaccines, and Biden intended the event to highlight efforts to accelerate U.S. vaccine production through collaborations his administration helped broker. The chief executives of both J&J and Merck are expected to attend the event at the White House.

Biden officials say they believe that thanks to the joint effort, the U.S. expects to receive all or nearly all of its 100 million-dose order from J&J by the end of May. Biden has said his administration will have enough doses of vaccine from all three authorized manufacturers to inoculate every American adult within that time frame, though actual vaccinations will likely take longer.

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