White House says removal of AstraZeneca vaccine from U.S. plant will not affect dose output

FILE PHOTO: Oxford/AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre in Antwerp

By Carl O'Donnell

(Reuters) -A U.S. government decision to end production of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine at Emergent BioSolutions Inc's Baltimore manufacturing facility is not an indication of concerns about its safety or effectiveness and will not impact the output of doses, a White House official said on Monday.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) ordered Johnson & Johnson to take charge of production at the plant that was being used to produce both vaccines. Emergent was told to stop making AstraZeneca's shot after the contract manufacturer made an error that ruined 15 million J&J COVID-19 vaccine doses.

"This is not a decision that in any way has anything to do with any concerns about the AstraZeneca vaccine," White House COVID-19 adviser Andy Slavitt told reporters during a virtual news conference.

The AstraZeneca shot, which is being used in dozens of countries, has been under increased scrutiny over reports of extremely rare but serious blood clots in the brain in some people who received the vaccine.

The U.S. manufacturing mistake occurred several weeks ago, when it was discovered that a batch of J&J vaccine had been contaminated with ingredients from AstraZeneca's vaccine, the New York Times reported last week.

J&J on Saturday reiterated that it will deliver 100 million doses to the government by the end of May. Emergent said on Sunday would ramp down production of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine at the Baltimore plant.

AstraZeneca, whose vaccine has not yet been authorized for use in the United States, said it will work with President Joe Biden's administration to find an alternative production site.

"This is a decision that HHS made with Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca in complete collaboration," Slavitt said.

Slavitt also said during Monday's briefing that nearly one-in-three Americans have had at least one COVID-19 shot and more than 55% of seniors have been fully vaccinated.

However, average daily coronavirus infections have increased 7% over the previous seven-day period to around 64,000 daily, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters on Monday.

The United States has shipped out nearly 208 million COVID-19 shots and administered more than 165 million, according to federal data last updated on Sunday.

(Reporting by Carl O'DonnellEditing by Chizu Nomiyama and Bill Berkrot)