Failed Johnson & Johnson vaccine batch: Will it affect California? What we know

Maria Sestito
Palm Springs Desert Sun

A batch of 15 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine failed quality standards and can’t be used, the drug giant saidthis week.

The news came just as California expanded eligibility, opening appointments to all residents age 50 and older Thursday largely because the state had been expecting a greater supply of vaccine.

Included in that age group is Gov. Gavin Newsom, who received the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine during a live press conference Thursday. The dose that the governor received was not from the affected batch, he said. 

Newsom said California's "three-week window on J&J has not been impacted by this manufacturing issue in Baltimore." The state expects to receive 572,700 doses next week, 215,400 the following week, and another 215,400 the week after that, he said. 

How the failed batch will affect supplies in the state beyond those three weeks is "an open ended question," he said. 

More:Nearly 6K residents wrongly billed for COVID-19 vaccines, tests by Riverside University Health System

A vile of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine sits on a table at a Palm Springs Unified School District vaccine clinic on Wednesday, March 10, 2021.

The state is still seeing increases in supply of Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, both of which require two-doses, Newsom added. 

California has administered more than 18 million doses as of Thursday and 6.7 million people are fully vaccinated — 21% of the population. The state has nearly 40 million residents.

Residents ages 16 and older are expected to be eligible April 15. Newsom said that the state would move forward with the expansion. "We're confident that we can deliver on that as long as the manufactured supply still comes into the state of California," he said. 

When asked about the failed Johnson & Johnson batch, a California Department of Public Health spokesperson said “maintaining the highest standards during vaccine production to ensure safe and effective vaccines is a paramount concern."

"We are working with the federal government to learn more about potential impacts,” the spokesperson said in an email to The Desert Sun on Wednesday.

Similarly, health officials in Riverside County could not yet provide information Wednesday on whether any shipments they expected to receive were affected.

"Any time there is an interruption that might impact our vaccine allotments it’s concerning," county spokesperson Shane Reichardt said in an emailWednesday. "We’re watching these developments but have yet to determine how it might impact our county."

Newsom gets J&J vaccine

California's governor received his “one and done” shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine Thursday. 

The Democratic governor chose a public stage to receive his shot — sitting in a folding chair, steps from a bank of TV cameras while the event was livestreamed from a mostly vacant area on a lower floor of a Los Angeles shopping mall.

Wearing a mask, Newsom kept the mood light, bantering as he prepared to be vaccinated. He joked that he brought his own doctor, Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly. 

“Nothing to be nervous about,” Ghaly said before poking the governor with a needle.

Newsom, 53, received his vaccination as millions more Californians became eligible to make appointments for the available doses, a process that remains frustrating for many.

Unlike most residents, however, there was no waiting in line for Newsom. He did not have to wade through the state’s online portal and other separate sites in an attempt to get a vaccination appointment, or wake up in the middle of the night hoping to score a last-minute opening.

He encouraged residents 50 and over to get vaccinated.

“The best vaccine is the next one available,” Newsom said.

But he also warned the state has been hit with at least seven virus mutations that pose new threats and “now is not the time to spike the ball. Now is not the time to announce, ‘Mission accomplished.’”

The event took place at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, a shopping mall in a historically Black neighborhood southwest of downtown. LA County Supervisor Holly Mitchell said it was critical to highlight the disproportionate economic and health effects of the pandemic on working class people and communities of color, particularly for Black and Latino Californians.

Mitchell cheered as Yolanda Richardson, the state secretary in charge of vaccination operations, also received the J&J vaccine. Both women are African American.

What happened with the failed batch?

The company at the center of quality problems that led Johnson & Johnson to discard millions of doses has a string of citations from U.S. health officials for quality control problems. 

Emergent BioSolutions, a little-known company vital to the vaccine supply chain, was a key to Johnson & Johnson's plan to deliver 100 million doses of its single-shot vaccine to the United States by the end of May. But the Food and Drug Administration repeatedly has cited Emergent for problems such as poorly trained employees, cracked vials and problems managing mold and other contamination around one of its facilities, according to records obtained by The Associated Press through the Freedom of Information Act. The records cover inspections at Emergent facilities since 2017. 

Johnson & Johnson said in a statement it was still planning to deliver 100 million doses by the end of June and was “aiming to deliver those doses by the end of May.”

“Human errors do happen," Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said Thursday in an interview on CBS' “This Morning.” "You have checks and balances. ... That’s the reason why the good news is that it did get picked up. As I mentioned, that’s the reason nothing from that plant has gone into anyone that we’ve administered to.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday that none of the J&J vaccine doses on the market are affected and the company was on track to deliver 24 million doses in April and 100 million doses by the end of May.

“These are doses that the U.S. government has purchased, but we also have plenty of doses from Pfizer and Moderna, regardless," Psaki said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.