The US government replaced British drugmaker AstraZeneca with its American rival Johnson & Johnson in charge of a vaccine manufacturing plant.
The move on Saturday came after AstraZeneca last month saw 15 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine spoiled due to contamination in a production plant in Baltimore, Maryland, according to local reports.
“Johnson & Johnson is assuming full responsibility regarding the manufacturing of drug substance for its COVID-19 vaccine at the Emergent BioSolutions Inc. Bayview facility,” the company said in a statement.
It said it would increase output and the number of personnel at Emergent as it plans to deliver nearly 100 million single-shot doses of its COVID-19 vaccine to the US government by the end of May.
While almost 208 million doses have been distributed in the US, 165 million have been administered as of early Sunday. But so far, only 61.4 million people, or 18.5% of the US population, have gotten the full two doses, according to figures from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Dr. Michael Osterholm, who served on President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 transition advisory board, told Fox News on Sunday that the US was seeing a “fourth wave.”
“I believe that, in some ways, we’re almost in a new pandemic,” he said adding that the only good news was that current vaccines are effective against the B.1.1.7 strain, commonly known as the UK variant.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky warned last Monday of “impending doom” amid rising cases in the US, up 10% to around 60,000 cases per day from the previous week.
“I know that travel is up, and I just worry that we will see the surges that we saw over the summer and over the winter again … But right now, I’m scared,” she said.
President Biden later said on the same day: “We still are in a war with this deadly virus. And we’re bolstering our defenses, but this war is far from won,” according to a statement by the White House.
More than 30.7 million cases have been recorded in the US since the start of the pandemic with over 555,000 deaths, according to Maryland’s Johns Hopkins University. Global cases are more than 131 million, while over 2.8 million have lost their lives.