How Will Johnson & Johnson’s Vaccine Struggles Affect Virginia?

By Amie Knowles

April 3, 2021

State officials say there’s enough vaccine to fill orders for several weeks.

RICHMOND – Johnson & Johnson’s recent struggles won’t slow down Virginia’s vaccine distribution, at least for the next two weeks. State vaccine coordinator Dr. Danny Avula explained what happens after that during a press conference Friday afternoon.

A Baltimore-based manufacturer recently produced 15 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. However, none of those doses came to Virginia. They actually didn’t go anywhere. Unfortunately, a mixup occurred at the Emergent BioSolutions manufacturing plant. 

Avula said that it appeared some Johnson & Johnson ingredients and some AstraZeneca ingredients ended up in the same mixture.

“The mix of ingredients wasn’t done correctly,” Avula said. “So during the quality control process, they identified that the mix had not been done well, and so they took 15 million doses off line.”

While news just broke this week about the mixup, it apparently occurred last month. However, no doses of the faulty batch reached human arms. 

Johnson & Johnson’s statement on the incident said in part that “this batch was never advanced to the filling and finishing stages of our manufacturing process.”

Johnson & Johnson’s Allocation Still Coming

Even though the mixup involved 15 million doses, it will not change Johnson & Johnson’s Virginia allocation for next week.

“I think those [Emergent] doses will be completely taken off line, which means that the future delivery schedule is a bit up in the air,” Avula said. “It does appear that our doses that are coming next week will still be coming, which is good news because that’s over 200,000 doses that we were expecting – that we have ordered – and will be coming in next week.”

However, it’s hard to lose 15 million doses and still meet every goal. Right now, it’s unclear if the vaccine mixup at the Baltimore plant will impact Virginia’s distribution, Avula said.

“Their goal was 24 million doses for the month of April,” Avula said. “Johnson & Johnson paired up with Merck to be able to expand its production capacity. It’s within the realm of possibilities that they’re still able to ramp up enough to meet their production targets by the end of April. But I just don’t know.”

The rest of the vaccine distribution remains stable in Virginia. Pfizer plans to continue sending 112,000 first doses and Moderna will ship 86,000 first doses each week.

Pharmacies will move into Phase 1C of distribution on April 11 and Phase 2 on April 18.

An Ongoing Effort

The doctor spoke about the national data surrounding COVID-19, calling it “a little bit concerning.” 

“We’ve seen about a 20% increase in cases nationally,” Avula said. “That has not been the case in Virginia. It’s been a plateau with a couple of bumps here and there. But you know, not the downward trend we’d hoped for.”

With talks of Phase 2 looming, Avula noted some Virginia localities will open vaccines up to that group as early as Sunday. 

“I anticipate a number of them will [begin Phase 2] next week. So that means open eligibility. It does not mean open pods. People won’t be showing up for walk-in pods. But it does mean that they will be able to openly self-schedule into appointments regardless of any eligibility criteria,” Avula said. “So what we’ll see starting on Sunday is that local health departments will be moving in that direction over the course of the next couple of weeks. And all districts will be fully into Phase 2 by April 18.”

Amie Knowles reports for Dogwood. You can reach her at [email protected] 

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  • Amie Knowles

    Amie is Dogwood's community editor. She has been in journalism for several years, winning multiple awards from the Virginia Press Association for news and features content. A lifelong Virginia resident, her work has appeared in the Martinsville Bulletin, Danville Register & Bee and NWNC Magazine.

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