(Photo by Daniel Schludi on Unsplash)
In response to the pandemic, we’ve seen collaboration between life sciences companies that are putting local facilities work to solve the global health crisis. On Monday, Mayor Brandon Scott proposed a new partnership that would make those life-saving products available directly to the city in which they’re made.
In a letter to pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson, Scott proposed that 300,000 doses of the company’s COVID-19 vaccine that are manufactured in Baltimore by Maryland-based biotech company Emergent BioSolutions be purchased directly by the City of Baltimore. Scott said the doses can help to ensure that the vaccine is distributed equitably in Baltimore.
“Through its partnership with Emergent BioSolutions, Johnson & Johnson will benefit from the medical expertise and skills of Baltimore City,” Scott wrote. “What we propose is a historic partnership between Johnson & Johnson and the City of Baltimore to not only vaccinate Baltimore City residents, but also tackle the effects of structural racism that have contributed to health disparities.”
As Mayor, my highest priority is keeping Baltimoreans healthy and safe.
Today, I sent a proposal to @JNJGlobalHealth requesting partnership to directly purchase 300,000 vaccines manufactured here in Baltimore and ensure equitable vaccine distribution. Full letter below. pic.twitter.com/X68jR80y8F
— Brandon M. Scott (@MayorBMScott) February 8, 2021
While vaccinations against the disease that caused a pandemic have begun, the request comes as reinforcements appear to be on the way. Johnson & Johnson reported in late January that trial data showed its vaccine candidate was effective, and said it would seek emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which would clear it for use in the U.S. This vaccine is seen by health experts as an important tool in the global fight against the virus because it can be administered in a single dose, and can be stored in a more conventional manner than the existing vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech.
Once approved, the company has an agreement in place with Emergent BioSolutions to manufacture the vaccine at its facilities near Johns Hopkins Bayview Hospital. The Gaithersburg-based biotech company is making vaccines for a series of the vaccine frontrunners.
Of the shots given so far in the city, Scott said that less than 4% of the city’s Black residents have received the first dose of the vaccine, which he called “unacceptable.” (Check out the City’s vaccine dashboard here.)
“We know that to effectively combine COVID-19, we need a greater supply of vaccine and a focus on equity,” Scott said at a news conference. “We must develop a model for distribution focused on an efficient and accessible vaccine strategy that put equity and harm reduction at the forefront of policy and planning operations.”
Scott proposes that the company make the doses available to buy “as soon as they are available and approved for use.” If they are approved for purchase, the mayor said he will create a subcommittee to create an allocation model with leaders from the company, the city health department, medical experts and community leaders.
Amid a shortage of the vaccine nationwide, it wasn’t immediately clear on Monday of the prospects for this plan succeeding. In response to a reporter’s question, Scott said he hasn’t previously talked to Johnson & Johnson about the proposal, but is making the ask so that the city benefits from what is made here. The company didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the proposal.
In the letter to Johnson & Johnson, he also references another hurdle: The federal government is given a right of first purchase to the vaccine, meaning that process would have to be navigated to sell doses directly to Baltimore.
The letter gets at a key question: Even as it makes new breakthroughs and brings economic gains, what’s the responsibility of the global-facing life sciences industry to the local communities in which its companies are working?
“Johnson and Johnson has the ability through this partnership to focus first on equity by ensuring distribution to Black and Brown communities that have been historically underserved by Big Pharma,” Scott wrote.
In the meantime, the city is setting up infrastructure for more vaccination outreach through this lens of equity. At the news conference, Scott said the city is working with MedStar Health, LifeBridge Health, Johns Hopkins Medicine and the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing to create mobile response teams that provide vaccinations for seniors who lack the ability to get to central mass vaccination sites.
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