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The Emergent scandal just keeps getting worse and worse. Why has only known supplier of a critical vaccine– anthrax– not been nationalized by US gov’t?

2021-04-26

Emergent Biosolutions is the company with the sole-source contract to supply anthrax vaccine to the Strategic National Stockpile. In March, Emergent was forced to discard up to 15 million doses of coronavirus vaccine due to fears of contamination between the two vaccines that it was contracted to produce at its Bayview plant in Baltimore.

In June 2020, a top pandemic official (a manufacturing expert who has been a vaccine production supervisor for Operation “Warp Speed” since last year) warned after a visit to the plant (shortly after the company was awarded a contract worth up to $628 million to prepare the plant to produce coronavirus vaccines) that the plant was a “key risk” due to problems with quality control and lack of sufficient trained staff. See this New York Times (NYT) article from April 7 about the official’s warning– in a document that was not publicly released.

Another NYT article updated April 13 describes the company’s history as the sole producer of anthrax vaccine and a standby emergency provider of vaccines for the federal government over the last eight years.

A recent inspection of the plant showed major problems, from peeling paint to evidence that bags of contaminated trash had been dragged across the floors of supposedly clean rooms. Some personnel had not followed protocol before entering clean rooms, including not showering or changing into clean overalls.

The plant has been the sole source of the anthrax vaccine which has been stockpiled for almost twenty years, since an attack by an unknown terrorist killed several people using weaponized anthrax spores. The prime suspect committed suicide when he was tracked down by the FBI. Ever since then, producing anthrax vaccine to prevent the use of anthrax as a terror weapon has been a top priority among US counter-terrorist officials.

Emergent Biosolutions has been the sole provider of anthrax vaccine to the US for over eight years. Emergent is owned by a private equity company that has not been shy about raising its prices, to the point where almost half the annual expense for the Strategic National Stockpile has gone to Emergent for its anthrax vaccine. As a result, other emergency medical equipment (including face N95 face masks) has not been replenished.

The expense of anthrax vaccine was blamed for a lack of sufficient personal protective equipment in the stockpile, which led to a severe shortage of N95 masks early in the pandemic.

Emergent has been derelict in its management of this factory, possibly for many years. The full wrath of the inspectors should fall upon Emergent and its CEO soon. The business of manufacturing anthrax vaccine is too important to our national security to be left in the hands of corrupt or incompetent managers.

(photo by Liz Masoner via pixabay.com)

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