Gov. Larry Hogan said Friday that Maryland expects to receive 250,000 fewer doses of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine over the next three weeks, up from 78,000 state officials initially said they would be short next week.
The extended loss of doses will be a significant hit to the vaccination campaign in the state, which reached a milestone of more than 82,000 vaccination Thursday. Almost 3.3 million doses have been given in total in Maryland and about 21% of the population is considered fully vaccinated.
“The last thing we want to hear about is we’re getting less vaccine,” Hogan said during a news conference. “They do believe they are going to get it fixed. … It could be later in May rather than in April.”
Hogan said he’s been given little information from federal authorities, who supply the vaccines to states, but believes the shortages are related to a mishap at the Emergent BioSolutions manufacturing plant in East Baltimore that ended in the disposal of an estimated 15 million Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses.
The plant’s production line had not yet been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but had been producing vaccine in anticipation. Officials have delayed approvals of other doses made and stored at the plant because of lack of quality controls revealed in inspections.
Federal authorities placed Johnson & Johnson in charge of the Emergent BioSolutions plant near Johns Hopkins Bayview Hospital to resolve the problems there.
Hogan said there are millions of doses worth of vaccine sitting in the plant waiting for authorization for use, and may not be involved in the “screwup.” The Bayview facility makes vaccine in bulk and sends it to another facility to be put into vials before it reaches providers to be injected into people.
“If the FDA issues an [emergency use authorization] for that facility, they will have millions of doses to ship out,” he said.
Hogan also said that another vaccine, made by Gaithersburg-based Novavax, and developed using research by a University of Maryland coronavirus researcher, also is showing promising results and could be submitted for federal reviews in May.
It would be the nation’s fourth authorized vaccine, developed on a highly expedited timeline. It was initially slated to be produced at the Emergent facility but the work was moved to another plant.
The federal government awarded Gaithersburg-based Emergent BioSolutions a $628 million contract last year to fast-track production of COVID-19 vaccines then still being developed for the United States. The plant was developed initially with federal funding for just such a use.
Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca signed their own contracts with Emergent to produce vaccine. Manufacturing of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is not yet authorized for use, will be moved to another plant.
All of the Johnson & Johnson doses currently allocated in the United States come from plants in Europe.
Initially, state officials said the losses would cause a 33% drop on overall doses next week. Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine requires only one dose, while the other two available vaccines — from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna — require two.
State health officials say they allocate vaccine to state sites and other providers on a week-to-week basis based on supply, and since they knew the state would get fewer doses they allowed fewer appointments or switched vaccines.
Until supply catches up, there will be fewer new appointment available.
“Our COVID-19 vaccination team is closely monitoring the reduction in the federal government’s allotment to Maryland and adjusting solicitations accordingly going forward,” said Charlie Gischlar, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Health.
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“At this time, it does not appear that existing confirmed appointments at mass vaccination sites will be affected,” he said. “However, further reductions from the federal government may result in fewer appointments being offered in the coming weeks.”
He said officials still encourage residents age 16 and older to pre-register for an appointment at a state site by going to covidvax.maryland.gov or by calling 855-MD-GOVax.
Hogan said the timing of the drop was particularly concerning because of the rise in cases in Maryland and nationally, fueled by more contagious variants.
The state added 1,840 coronavirus cases Friday, the most since late January, for a total of more than 423,000 total cases reported. Maryland has reported more than 700 cases involving variants, the vast majority caused by one first identified in the United Kingdom.
That variant, known as B.1.1.7, is now the nation’s dominant strain, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Wednesday.
Hogan said the state had been steadily increasing vaccinations as the supply of vaccine increased.
“It’s frustrating,” he said the the drop. “It caught us all by surprise. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt it’ll be fixed.”