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U.S. Bet Big on Covid Vaccine Manufacturer Even as Problems Mounted


Because of the pandemic, most of the auditors drew their conclusions from documents and video tours, during which Emergent workers controlled the camera angles, one former company official said.

Johnson & Johnson’s auditors said monitoring reports for bacteria or other contaminants were filed four to six months late. AstraZeneca’s said that Emergent repeatedly loosened monitoring criteria so it appeared to meet them, resorting to measures like “historical averages.” But even then it failed the tests, the report said.

In another audit, BARDA officials documented similar concerns, classifying some of them, including the risks of microbiological contamination, as “critical.” That designation is reserved for the most serious problems that pose an immediate and significant risk.

Emergent’s own internal audit in July also said the flow of workers and materials through the plant was not adequately controlled “to prevent mix-ups or contamination.”

The reports echoed quality-control shortcomings documented in an April inspection by the F.D.A., reported earlier by The Associated Press, that concluded the facility was “not ready for commercial operations.”

Multiple audits underscore how poorly the company was prepared for the huge workload it accepted.

The Covid-19 projects required significantly more testing to ensure materials remained stable, but Emergent had just one employee coordinating it all, the BARDA audit found. Emergent acknowledged at the time that its testing system was “not ideal” and pledged to train at least one more Emergent worker and hire a third. BARDA did not respond to requests for comment on its audit or any of the others, beyond saying that it had “worked with Emergent to resolve the issues” raised during the F.D.A. inspection.

Another internal investigation in August found that Emergent approved four raw materials used to produce AstraZeneca’s vaccine without first fully testing them. That type of shortcut, called a conditional release of material, occurred on average twice a week in October, internal logs show. The measure that was deemed necessary because the company was working with shortened production times, testing backlogs and the needs of Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s crash vaccine development program. And while a manager “knowingly deviated” from standards, the report said, the batches of vaccine would be not released without quality and safety tests.



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