ANN ARBOR, MICH. – The National Association of Manufacturers announced today that it will offer an association health plan to its members, extending affordable health care to small and medium-sized manufacturing companies and member associations in approved states. In states where the association health plan is not available, the NAM will connect manufacturers with available small-group options in their state.
“This association health plan is another step in our work to make the NAM a one-stop shop for manufacturing across the United States,” said NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons. “With small and medium-sized businesses making up more than 90 percent of our membership, this plan will help provide health care and reduce uncertainty for workers and their employers across the country.”
The plan, called NAM Health Care (www.namhealthcare.com), was developed to meet manufacturers’ unique health care needs. It will offer a portfolio of health benefits options insured by UnitedHealthcare. In states where these plans are available, businesses with 2 to 99 employees will be able to choose from a variety of PPO (Preferred Provider Organization) and HSA (Health Savings Account) health plans. Members will also have access to UnitedHealthcare’s Choice Plus care provider network of more than 1.2 million physicians and care professionals and 6,500 hospitals and other care facilities nationwide. UnitedHealthcare will work with any licensed or appointed agents who want to sell NAM Health Care.
In addition, Mercer will provide the NAM’s small business members with consulting services regarding health benefits offerings and contribution strategies, marketing support to educate and enroll their employees, plan administration and compliance services. The Mercer Affinity 365+sm platform will provide members technology for quoting, enrollment and ongoing benefits administration to drive cost efficiencies and facilitate employee engagement.
Association health plans allow companies to band together to manage and purchase health care coverage that may save on annual health insurance costs by providing plans that are typically enjoyed by larger companies at a competitive price. Under NAM Health Care, eligible member companies also will have access to supplemental benefits, including dental, vision and life.
“The work that manufacturers are doing every day grows the economy and strengthens our country, and they deserve the health care they need to do that job with certainty and support,” said Timmons. “At the NAM, we are proud to help lower costs and increase competitive health coverage for the men and women who make things in America.”
NAM Health Care is quoting these plans for eligible member groups for a Sept. 1, 2019, enrollment date. To enroll in these plans, where available, interested businesses may visit www.namhealthcare.com.
What does it look like when manufacturers get vaccinated? For some people across the country, it was just another day at work.
Hundreds of manufacturers nationwide have hosted vaccination events for their own employees, sometimes including family and community members as well. NAM Director of Photography David Bohrer stopped by a few of these events to capture them, while other companies sent the NAM their own pictures. Here are some of those photos—a visual tour of manufacturers’ efforts to keep America safe and healthy.
Calvert, Alabama: Steel and mining company ArcelorMittal held an on-site vaccine clinic at its plant for team members and the local community. If you look closely, you’ll see that one of these employees is holding a pin from the NAM and The Manufacturing Institute’s Yellow and Red Ribbon initiative—a symbol of vaccination that you can wear to show you’ve done your part.
Fremont, California: Below, an employee of ALOM Technologies Corporation, which creates supply chain technology and solutions, gets his shot at the company’s facility. In the background, you can see a poster for This Is Our Shot, the NAM and MI’s effort to help manufacturers across the country get vaccinated.
Perryville, Missouri: More than 150 Gilster-Mary Lee Corporation employees were vaccinated at an on-site clinic set up at the company’s request by the local Perry County Health Department.
In our interview with Gilster-Mary Lee President and CEO Tom Welge back in April, he told us how the tragic death of his father (and former Gilster-Mary Lee CEO) Don Welge from COVID-19 reinforced the company’s commitment to vaccinations. Read more about the company’s efforts here.
Baltimore, Maryland: Marlin Steel Wire Products led a coalition of 81 manufacturing companies in an effort to get vaccine doses for their workers. In the end, the coalition organized 17 events for more than 3,300 employees.
Here’s a photo from a March event for workers from Marlin Steel, Orlando Products and Arnold Packaging. It was hosted at Orlando’s facility, where a team from Safeway administered the shots.
We spoke to Marlin President and Owner Drew Greenblatt back in April about how he organized this effort. Check out the interview here.
Lafayette, Indiana: At Subaru of Indiana, more than 2,900 vaccinations were delivered across eight clinics held in the facility’s lobby. The clinic was open to all on-site personnel, including vendor and contractor representatives, along with associates’ spouses and eligible kids. Recently, the company transitioned to hosting a weekly vaccine clinic at its on-site Health and Wellness Center.
Join in: If you’re a manufacturer looking to encourage vaccinations among your employees or even host an event yourself, check out the many resources available through the NAM and the MI’s This Is Our Shot project. The most recent addition is an “on-site vaccination clinic toolkit” provided by the Department of Health and Human Services. And don’t forget to wear your yellow and red ribbon pin!
As India struggles with COVID-19, manufacturers across the United States have stepped up to offer assistance and material aid.
The situation: India is grappling with a dangerous and extremely transmissible form of COVID-19, even as the country has struggled to inoculate large swaths of its population. As a result, hospitals across the country are straining to fulfill critical needs, and the situation has become dire.
The support: Many manufacturers have announced that they will provide critical assistance to response efforts in India, including the following:
- Raytheon Technologies donated four mobile oxygen trucks, working with the Indian Red Cross to get them to Delhi.
- Deere donated $2.7 million to provide urgent medical resources and health care infrastructure, working with United Way Mumbai.
- Pfizer sent $70 million worth of COVID-19 treatment medicines directly to India/Indian government to help fight the disease.
- Lilly donated 400,000 tablets of key medicine used to treat severe COVID-19 patients—and made new voluntary agreements to ramp up local manufacturing and distribution in India.
- UPS donated $1 million to India to fight COVID-19.
- FedEx is donating critical supplies to India and has donated $4 million to help nonprofit organizations reach underserved communities get COVID-19 vaccines.
- Samsung is importing 1 million Low Dead Space (LDS) syringes, which minimize the amount of drug left in the syringes after an injection.
- Boeing created a $10 million emergency assistance package for India to support the country’s response to the recent surge in COVID-19 cases.
- LyondellBasell is donating $100,000 to the U.S. India Friendship Alliance to help the organization provide 250 oxygen concentrators to India’s hospitals and medical facilities.
In related news, the United States will donate 500 million doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to the world, according to Reuters (subscription). The donations will be distributed this year and over the first half of next year to 92 lower-income countries and the African Union, via the COVAX vaccine program spearheaded by the World Health Organization and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization. The White House has also pledged additional direct aid to India, which is detailed here.
- The NAM has praised these efforts to accelerate vaccinations in India and the rest of the world, calling them a “powerful, effective way to improve vaccine access,” while preserving critical IP protections that made that innovation possible.
What we’re saying: “Manufacturers are deeply committed to the fight against COVID-19 in our communities, including here in the United States, in India and around the world,” said NAM Director of International Business Policy Ryan Ong. “The NAM is working directly with members and with partners like Good360 and SBP to provide critical relief where it is mostly badly needed and to help us all respond and recover from COVID-19 as we work toward a better post-pandemic world.”
Now that all American adults are eligible for vaccination and largely have easy access to vaccines, it’s even more important to convince those still on the fence about getting their shots. To help manufacturers convince their hesitating employees, The Manufacturing Institute has partnered, as a part of the “This Is Our Shot” project, with the Center for Public Interest Communications at the University of Florida on a research study about hesitancy and how manufacturers can overcome it.
The big idea: The study aimed to identify strategies that manufacturers can use to increase vaccine confidence among their teams, according to Matt Sheehan and Annie Neimand, managing director and research director, respectively, at the Center. It took a wide-ranging approach, applying social science to this public health problem and looking for evidence-based strategies that employers could put into practice right away.
Why it matters: According to the team, vaccine hesitancy can be driven by a range of factors, including a lack of access to vaccination opportunities, uncertainty about the process of getting inoculated or incorrect or confusing information. Those different motivations can be countered by different approaches, the researchers advise. Understanding where people are coming from makes it easier to give them the support they need.
What we learned: The study arrived at five steps that will help encourage manufacturing workers to get vaccinated:
- Communicate from a place of trust. To be effective, manufacturing leaders should communicate frequently and transparently about vaccination policies and vaccination rates within the facility. Vaccination goals, too, should be focused on the facility.
- Help remove barriers to getting the vaccine. Employers should make it easy to obtain the vaccine and make employees feel supported in their decision to get it. That may mean communicating in languages that their workforce uses, helping employees make vaccination appointments as needed and offering time off for employees to recover if they have significant side effects after the vaccine.
- Highlight trusted messengers. Lots of vaccine skeptics are also skeptical of outsiders, so employers should enlist trusted local authorities, civic leaders and peer influencers to disseminate information.
- Customize tactics to appeal to the community. There is no one-size-fits-all message, and it’s important to reach people who come from different backgrounds and have different ideologies. For some people, it’s important to talk about reaching herd immunity or protecting the most vulnerable in our communities. For others, it’s more effective to talk about the vaccines’ role in protecting their own families and loved ones, or even themselves.
- Address fears at an individual level. Reacting to hesitancy with negativity, or suggesting that all people who are concerned about vaccines are the same, will only increase hesitancy. Instead, listen to individual concerns, and guide people to a useful solution.
Point of emphasis: “It’s important that we listen more than we talk,” said Sheehan. “That’s what’s going to get us to the point where we reach some of these hesitant groups. We need to help solve problems rather than impart information…. If we can listen and hear and alleviate concerns and fix barriers, we’re going to see much more success.”
What’s next: The MI and the Center for Public Interest Communications are preparing to release additional research findings and a new communications guide later this month, to bolster manufacturers’ efforts to get the remainder of their teams and communities vaccinated. Stay up to date on all the latest “This Is Our Shot” project resources at NAM.org/ThisIsOurShot.
Washington, D.C. – The National Association of Manufacturers has launched a national television and digital advertising campaign urging lawmakers to stand up for manufacturers that make lifesaving medicines, including the COVID-19 vaccines that are now getting us back to work safely, by opposing H.R. 3 and its foreign-styled price setting on critical pharmaceuticals.
The campaign calls on members of Congress from both parties to oppose policies that would slow our private-sector research engine in its tracks and diminish America’s ability to rapidly develop lifesaving cures by leaving us less prepared to respond to future crises and more reliant on other nations.
“We learned the hard way during the pandemic that we cannot rely on others to protect our nation’s health. Congress must stand up for its innovators and manufacturers whose medicines and treatments keep us healthy. They should oppose H.R. 3 and its top-down government-led controls that would undermine our ability to respond to our health care needs and develop lifesaving cures. When COVID-19 attacked, manufacturers delivered the vaccines that are now putting Americans back to work safely, reopening our economy and letting us get back to the moments we miss. Now is not the time to weaken our ability to respond to the next crisis or abandon American values of free enterprise. We are calling on members of Congress to stand with manufacturers and oppose H.R. 3,” said NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons.
This new television and digital advertising campaign is running in media markets across the nation and follows NAM efforts to oppose drug price controls that have included numerous television, radio and print advertisements featured in nationwide outlets. To view the ad, click here.
The National Association of Manufacturers is the largest manufacturing association in the United States, representing small and large manufacturers in every industrial sector and in all 50 states. Manufacturing employs more than 12.3 million men and women, contributes $2.35 trillion to the U.S. economy annually and has the largest economic multiplier of any major sector and accounts for 63% of private-sector research and development. The NAM is the powerful voice of the manufacturing community and the leading advocate for a policy agenda that helps manufacturers compete in the global economy and create jobs across the United States. For more information about the NAM or to follow us on Twitter and Facebook, please visit www.nam.org.
Washington, D.C. – Following President Joe Biden’s first presidential address to Congress, National Association of Manufacturers President and CEO Jay Timmons released this statement:
“Thanks to the leadership of vaccine manufacturers and the Biden administration’s successful vaccine distribution efforts, Americans are getting back to the activities and the people they love. Though the capacity limits in the House chamber tonight remind us that we still have a long way to go, our future is looking brighter.
“We look forward to working with President Biden to achieve historic infrastructure investment, including the many priorities offered in our ‘Building to Win’ plan, which, in addition to identifying areas of investment, also provides multiple funding solutions.
“Manufacturers have also provided roadmaps on critical issues ranging from immigration to climate change. We’re ready to work with President Biden and members of any party to deliver bipartisan progress on these issues and more, all while ensuring we’re strengthening the manufacturing workforce, not jeopardizing manufacturing growth in the United States.
“To that point, raising taxes on manufacturers—including many small businesses that pay at the individual rate—would stop our recovery in its tracks; we would lose 1 million jobs in just the first two years alone. Small manufacturers would be especially hard hit at this critical juncture, restricting their ability to raise wages and benefits, hire more workers and invest in their communities. Similarly, changes to the longstanding tax rules on the transfer of family businesses to the next generation of manufacturers would cost American jobs.
“Returning to archaic tax policies and one of the highest business tax rates in the developed world is not the way to build our future, nor are federal policies to force workers to join a union. Anti-worker policies like the PRO Act would inject uncertainty by driving a wedge in established employee–employer relationships and curtail future manufacturing investments that support our communities and families.
“As we continue to get armed against COVID-19, manufacturers are focused on building the next, post-pandemic world—one that affords even greater opportunity for all Americans.”
The NAM continues to put forward commonsense proposals to educate and inform policymakers on ways to strengthen manufacturing in America while achieving our shared objectives.
- Tax Policy Protecting Manufacturing Jobs
- “Building to Win” Infrastructure Plan
- “The Promise Ahead,” Taking Action on Climate
- “A Way Forward” on Immigration
- “Strengthening the Manufacturing Supply Chain”
The National Association of Manufacturers is the largest manufacturing association in the United States, representing small and large manufacturers in every industrial sector and in all 50 states. Manufacturing employs 12.3 million men and women, contributes $2.35 trillion to the U.S. economy annually and has the largest economic multiplier of any major sector and accounts for 63% of private-sector research and development. The NAM is the powerful voice of the manufacturing community and the leading advocate for a policy agenda that helps manufacturers compete in the global economy and create jobs across the United States. For more information about the NAM or to follow us on Twitter and Facebook, please visit www.nam.org.
Washington, D.C. – Following President Joe Biden’s call to employers across America to do everything they can to help their employees—and their communities—get vaccinated, National Association of Manufacturers President and CEO Jay Timmons released the following statement:
“Vaccines are how we get armed against COVID-19, protect our loved ones, grow our economy and get back to the moments we miss. The hard work and innovation of America’s pharmaceutical manufacturers, coupled with the Biden administration’s laser focus on vaccine distribution and the dedication of local vaccination teams across the country, have enabled the administration to double its lofty goal set for the first 100 days.”
President Biden announced that he expects the nation to have administered 200 million shots within his first 100 days. He called on every employer in America to offer full pay to their employees for any time off needed to get vaccinated and announced a paid leave tax credit that will offset the cost for businesses with fewer than 500 employees.
Timmons added, “Manufacturers remain absolutely committed to helping our teams get safely vaccinated. Through our ‘This Is Our Shot’ project, we’re making resources available to answer questions and share the facts about how these vaccines are safe and effective and have reached more than 2.25 million people to date. Additionally, many manufacturers have supported vaccination by giving employees time off to get vaccinated. With a new tax credit, it will be even easier for manufacturers and all employers to offer this option. This is our shot to finally end this pandemic, so we’re going to keep working with the administration, state and local leaders and our member companies to get everyone vaccinated as soon as possible.”
Background on “This Is Our Shot”:
Launched earlier this year, the project, live at NAM.org/ThisIsOurShot, includes six main components: (1) science-based messaging research; (2) emergency industry convening and education, such as webinars; (3) an online vaccine information hub; (4) a PSA campaign; (5) the Yellow and Red Ribbon Initiative (for vaccinated individuals to show their peers they’re a part of the fight); and (6) a rapid response media and digital campaign. Resources available on the webpage are updated regularly, providing the latest information and tools for vaccine outreach and access.
The National Association of Manufacturers is the largest manufacturing association in the United States, representing small and large manufacturers in every industrial sector and in all 50 states. Manufacturing employs 12.3 million men and women, contributes $2.33 trillion to the U.S. economy annually and has the largest economic multiplier of any major sector and accounts for 63% of private-sector research and development. The NAM is the powerful voice of the manufacturing community and the leading advocate for a policy agenda that helps manufacturers compete in the global economy and create jobs across the United States. For more information about the NAM or to follow us on Twitter and Facebook, please visit www.nam.org
As the U.S. vaccine rollout expands to nearly all adults, manufacturers are figuring out how to encourage workers to be vaccinated. To help them, the NAM and The Manufacturing Institute are providing resources and advice through their This Is Our Shot project. Most recently, the project hosted a webinar to help employers frame conversations about vaccines, called Employer COVID-19 Vaccine Communications: Do’s and Don’ts. Here are some of the highlights.
The participants: The webinar was hosted by NAM Vice President of Brand Strategy Chrys Kefalas, the NAM lead of the This Is Our Shot project. It featured Ann Searight Christiano, director of the Center for Public Interest Communications at the University of Florida, and Jack Barry, a postdoctoral research associate for the University of Florida’s Center for Public Interest Communications.
Why communication matters: “The vaccines are becoming widely available and so people are really at a point where they no longer have to wait. It’s time,” said Christiano. “But as employers, you have a great deal of influence and trust with your employees and are well positioned to help build their trust and encourage them to get those vaccines.”
What to think about when you talk about vaccines: According to Christiano and Barry, there are eight factors to think about when developing vaccine communications: worldviews, timing, messengers, narratives, relationships, social norms, emotions and motivations. Christiano and Barry recommend taking people as they are—and responding to their particular identities and values.
Think about who and when: The timing and the messengers are extremely important. National health professionals are far more trusted on pandemic advice than celebrities, for example. People generally want messengers from their own communities, too. Think of the “influencers” in your workplaces—the respected leaders, the trusted employees—and consider using them in your campaigns, say Christiano and Barry.
The message itself: Use specifics to show how important it is to get vaccinated, such as that vaccines allow you to travel or hug your grandparents. And use the themes of choice, regret and control—often cited by vaccine hesitators—and frame them in a positive way to increase vaccine uptake.
Things to avoid: Don’t amplify people’s concerns and avoid appeals to unpleasant emotions like shame and fear, the researchers advise. Consider instead using pleasant emotions like pride, joy and parental love. Consider the motivations of the messenger, too. Be transparent and honest about why you want people to get vaccinated.
The last word: “Our role is to help all manufacturers get fact- and science-based information to safeguard workplaces and communities and to help end this pandemic. We’ll continue hosting webinars, curating the most effective tools available and deploying other research-proven resources at NAM.org/ThisIsOurShot,” says Kefalas.
For more details on how to create communications for your employees, check out the whole presentation here.
At Gilster-Mary Lee Corporation—a food manufacturer headquartered in Chester, Illinois—the impact of COVID-19 is deeply personal. In April 2020, their CEO, Don Welge, passed away due to the virus.
“It was a time when there was not a lot known about the virus,” said CEO Tom Welge, who is Don’s son. “He was very much the spirit of the company, and we found ourselves without him at a time when demand was blowing up for groceries as everybody began staying home and the supply chain was starting to be disrupted. It was a very challenging year, and we were without our captain.”
A year later, that heartbreaking experience has made Welge especially supportive of the nationwide vaccination campaign and motivated to get his company’s workers vaccinated. He spoke to us recently about Gilster-Mary Lee’s methods for overcoming vaccine hesitancy and its efforts to run its own vaccine clinics.
Reducing vaccine hesitancy: The company is taking a multistep approach to help employees become comfortable with vaccination—from disseminating the NAM’s materials and fact sheets to coordinating with state and local health associations to creating its own informational products. But the most critical piece, according to Welge, is communication.
- “Probably the most important thing is consistent messaging and conversations,” said Welge. “We engaged our managers to make sure they were on board, and then we asked them to go out and evangelize the teams that they work with.”
Open engagement: “You’ve got to be open to answering questions that people have about the vaccine, and not belittle any questions that are brought to you,” said Welge. “At the end of the day, it’s still a decision that an individual has to make—and all we can do is point out all the advantages.”
Vaccination stations: Gilster-Mary Lee isn’t only encouraging its employees to receive the vaccine; the company is also bringing the vaccine directly to them by setting up vaccination clinics at its facilities—a process that was no small feat.
- “You make a lot of calls—you find the right person to talk to at a health care agency or a pharmacy and have a friendly conversation,” said Welge. “We are all aligned on what the mission is: we want to get as many doses to as many people as possible. If you show that you are somebody who will do whatever it takes to make this work, they’ll say let’s work with these guys.”
Pictures at a vaccination: NAM Director of Photography David Bohrer captured one of Gilster-Mary Lee’s vaccination events on April 1. The county health department sent over staff to give the Moderna vaccine to more than 150 workers at the company’s Perryville, Missouri, facility.
Here is Perry County Registered Nurse Amy Hector filling a shot from a vaccine vial:
Workers who are coming off an overnight shift or starting their day shift get vaccinated:
A nurse wears a pro-vaccine shirt in the picture below—sending the right message!
And last, getting your first vaccine dose is definitely worth smiling about. Here’s Gilster-Mary Lee employee Claudia Bohnert showing off a new Band-Aid where she received her first shot.
The bottom line: Welge is adamant in his support of vaccinations. As he puts it—and tells his employees—“This is a decision that protects you, protects your family and protects your coworkers.”
Timmons says: NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons said about Welge’s efforts, “Having lost my father to COVID-19, I know what the Welge family has endured. And I know how it strengthens your resolve to see everyone get vaccinated. No one should have to feel the immense pain of losing a loved one to COVID-19. And thankfully, now with the vaccines, we can protect all of our loved ones.”
You could say this was just another supply chain challenge for Marlin Steel Wire Products President and Owner Drew Greenblatt—a matter of getting the right materials to the right people at the right time. Except in this case, the right materials were COVID-19 vaccines, the right people were more than 3,300 manufacturing workers at 81 companies, and the right time was ASAP.
Greenblatt organized a coalition of Maryland manufacturers interested in hosting their own vaccination events, which required liaising with government officials and partnering with local pharmacies. The companies will host 17 events at their facilities, bringing in pharmacy employees to administer Pfizer vaccines.
First time: This grand plan went into motion last week, with the first vaccination events held on March 31. More than 120 essential manufacturing employees from Marlin Steel (a wire products and metal fabrication firm), Orlando Products (a disposable and reusable packaging maker) and Arnold Packaging (a producer of packaging and containers) got their shots at the Orlando facility. Meanwhile, a second event took place at the facility of spice manufacturer McCormick for that company’s employees.
NAM Director of Photography David Bohrer attended the Orlando event, capturing the vaccinations in progress. Here is a pharmacy worker explaining the COVID-19 shot record card to an employee who just got his first dose:
And here’s Hector Carmona of Marlin Steel receiving his shot:
Behind Marlin Steel employee Jake Dieter, you can see other employees waiting the required 15 minutes after they receive their vaccinations (in case of adverse reactions).
And last, here’s a McCormick employee celebrating her vaccination with a pharmacy employee (this photo was taken by McCormick staff at the company’s event).
How they did it: To help other manufacturers who might be interested in hosting vaccination clinics, Greenblatt explained to us how he planned the events.
The entire process took just under two months, beginning in late January. Greenblatt sprang into action once essential manufacturing workers became eligible for vaccinations in Maryland. Seeing his employees struggle to get appointments, he decided to work with other companies to make things easier for manufacturing workers. This is how they did it:
- First, a project manager at each company assembled a list of “critical” employees who wished to be vaccinated.
- Out of 8,000 employees, they built a spreadsheet of 3,300 essential manufacturing workers who were not vaccinated and were willing to receive the shots.
- At the request of the Maryland governor’s office, Greenblatt’s coalition partnered with Giant, Safeway and Rite Aid to get the vaccine. He jumped at the opportunity to work with efficient private-sector partners, as opposed to a patchwork of county governments. This allowed the coalition to move much more quickly—and to nail down the supply of the vaccine much faster.
- Once all the pharmacies and companies were committed, everything moved very quickly. The companies were warned that they had to be ready to vaccinate “at the drop of a hat,” so once the vaccination dates were confirmed, they coordinated with each other and the pharmacies directly to get workers where they needed to go.
The coalition has had the enthusiastic support of the Maryland government throughout its efforts. Gov. Larry Hogan, whose office was instrumental in arranging the vaccination events, will attend one of them in person in the coming days.
The last word: “We got it done. A mass inoculation blitz of 3,300 essential manufacturing workers in Maryland are getting the vaccine in 17 locations over the next couple days,” said Greenblatt. “Governor Hogan led the charge to make sure our food processing, medical products manufacturing and defense workers are protected against COVID-19. This leadership will keep our nation safe.”
You may not know it, but one company has the capacity to manufacture bulk drug substance for more than a billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines annually: Emergent BioSolutions, a global supplier for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and U.S. supplier for the AstraZeneca vaccine. Emergent Executive Vice President of Manufacturing and Technical Operations Sean Kirk spoke with us recently to explain what goes into the heroic production of all these doses—in other words, what it takes to help defeat COVID-19.
How the vaccine works: The complexity begins with the vaccines themselves, which are amazing feats of bioengineering. The two vaccines have broadly similar structures, though they are made by separate, quarantined production lines in the Emergent facility. (As Kirk says, you can’t even take a wrench from one production suite to the other.)
You can think of this type of vaccine as a sort of beneficial Trojan Horse:
- Particles of a virus called an adenovirus, which usually causes cold and flu-like symptoms, are engineered to hold the DNA of SARS-CoV-2 (the official name of the coronavirus)—and to not be infectious themselves.
- Those adenovirus particles enter your cells and program them to produce a component of SARS-CoV-2 called a spike protein.
- That process provokes an immune response, teaching your system how to defeat the real COVID-19.
So how do you make it? As you might guess, making such a precise vaccine is itself a complicated and delicate process.
- You need to make a lot of modified adenovirus particles very fast, while ensuring they aren’t infectious and can deliver their payload of SARS-CoV-2 DNA.
- To cut a long story very short, the production process involves “infecting living cells [with the modified adenovirus] and turning them into virus factories,” as science writer Derek Lowe says.
Where Emergent comes in: Emergent handles the manufacturing process, which results in something called “bulk drug substance,” Kirk explains.
- “Our facility produces the high concentration active pharmaceutical ingredients, the viral vectors themselves,” he says. “Then we freeze them down and ship them out to what’s called a fill/finish facility, which dilutes the concentrate and fills vials or syringes with it.”
The numbers: That concentrate will eventually become part of the 100 million Johnson & Johnson doses and 300 million AstraZeneca doses purchased by the U.S. government.
What it takes: Kirk gave us a glimpse of just how much effort went into getting ready for a new vaccine.
- 6 or 7 months: That’s all Emergent had, for a process that normally takes years. Consider how much goes into it, Kirk says: ordering equipment, getting that equipment to work correctly and comply with regulations, “working out the kinks from the complex biological manufacturing process”—and then scaling it up and optimizing it to make large quantities of vaccines as quickly and safely as possible.
- 800 new jobs: Emergent had to increase hiring, adding approximately 800 new jobs in 2020, many of which were dedicated to COVID-19 response across three Maryland sites.
- Group effort: Emergent works incredibly closely with Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca, along with the U.S. government and the company’s own suppliers. “We have leveraged U.S. government rated orders to get access to critical raw materials and equipment. We’ve depended upon certain suppliers, who were likewise rallying to the cause, to really step up and ramp up their overall capability and capacity,” says Kirk.
Why can’t you go faster? Kirk says he gets this question all the time and wants to impress upon readers that these are very complex biologic manufacturing processes.
- “They are highly regulated, highly technical and have to be highly reproducible,” he continued. “We are growing living cells and then we are infecting them with these viral vectors.”
- Furthermore, everything that Emergent produces must have the same characteristics of the product used in the clinical trials—“that’s the essence of biologic vaccine development,” Kirk says. “That’s the only way you can ensure safety and efficacy.”
The last word: Kirk tells us what he tells his employees: “It’s unbelievably difficult, more difficult than anything I’ve done in my entire career. But I can’t think of a more awesome opportunity to leave an indelible mark on the course of human history. We are going to help return a degree of normalcy to society. We’re going to help reunite families, open up economies and put a smile on children’s faces when they go back to school. And that’s an honorable and amazing thing.”
This article is the first in an exclusive four-part series on Emergent’s accelerated production efforts.