The White House has canceled President Joe Biden’s planned visit Wednesday to Emergent BioSolutions’ plant in East Baltimore. It would have been the Democrat’s first visit to Baltimore as chief executive.
Instead, the White House said in a scheduling plan, the president will host an event at the White House that day with the CEOs of two of the drug companies—Johnson & Johnson and Merck — who had been scheduled to participate in the Baltimore event.
The event will focus on the “historic partnership” of Johnson & Johnson and Merck to produce more COVID-19 vaccines, the planning document said.
The release does not specify why Emergent BioSolutions is no longer included.
“We just felt [the White House] was a more appropriate place to have the meeting,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at her briefing.
The New York Times reported over the weekend that the federal government paid Emergent $626 million last year alone for products to fight a terrorist attack using anthrax, taking resources away from other needs of the National Strategic Stockpile.
The newspaper reported that Emergent held “remarkable sway over the government’s purchasing decisions related to the vaccines” and that spending so much on the anthrax threat left the U.S. “with less money to buy supplies needed in a pandemic, despite repeatedly being advised to do so.”
Emergent, which called the article “misleading,” released a statement about it Monday in reply to questions from The Baltimore Sun.
“Emergent feels strongly the U.S. government should fully fund preparedness for a wide range of threats, including pandemics and bioterrorism, and that choosing one over the other, or to partially fund everything at a low level, leaves the American public dangerously exposed,” the company said. It said Emergent “is one of the very few companies that has invested in pandemic preparedness and bioterrorism, and the country has been better prepared to respond to COVID-19 because of it, leading to our ability to rapidly ramp up the manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines.”
Emergent been making coronavirus vaccine for months. Johnson & Johnson is among the pharmaceutical companies contracting with Emergent.
Last week, Biden announced a partnership under which Merck, a pharmaceutical rival, will help make the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
“This is the type of collaboration between companies we saw in World War II,” the president said.
Emergent said it would “remain focused on working around the clock to do our part in manufacturing the vaccines needed to beat this pandemic” and that the Biden administration is welcome to visit its facilities.
The company said it is capable of making more than 1 billion doses a year.
Psaki, the White House press secretary, said the administration would undertake a review and audit of the national stockpile. The stockpile, stored in locations around the country, contains medical supplies for use when normal stocks are depleted in emergencies in the U.S.
In the meantime, Psaki said, the administration’s health and COVID teams have “not conveyed to me any concern about the timeline or pace of vaccine production.”
Baltimore Sun reporter Hallie Miller contributed to this article.