Inside the Baltimore facility manufacturing COVID-19 vaccines

Posted at 4:30 PM, Feb 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-17 17:15:38-05

BALTIMORE (WMAR) — Tucked away in Southeast Baltimore, a Maryland company is manufacturing millions of COVID-19 vaccines.

"We’re running multiple production lines in parallel to maximize the throughput," said Sean Kirk, the Executive Vice President of Manufacturing for Emergent BioSolutions. "These are biologic vaccine manufacture processes and they’re not simple."

Maryland-based Emergent BioSolutions has taken on a big role as the primary manufacturer for the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines for the U.S. population.

Johnson & Johnson has already submitted to the FDA for Emergency Use Authorization. Preliminary phase 3 trial data showed the vaccine is 72 percent overall effective in preventing moderate COVID-19 in the U.S. It’s a single dose vaccine that uses a weakened animal cold virus to carry the spike protein of the virus that causes COVID-19.

"Therefore eliciting an immune response within you so you’re protected if you’re subsequently infected," said Kirk.

They take several weeks to produce with people working around the clock.

"We actual scale up and grow large volumes of cell culture," said Kirk.

Kirk said in the last year, they have hired over 300 employees at the SE Baltimore. location to help with the pandemic response. They have over 1,000 employees across 5 facilities in Baltimore City and Montgomery County, but SE Baltimore is the pandemic response arm of the company.

"These people are dealing with the familial impact of COVID in their personal lives, they come to work and they work on COVID vaccines. Some of them have had COVID over the course of the last several months so their level of commitment and resolve is impressive," said Kirk.

Destinie Burgan has worked there for over 2 years. Now she oversees the day to day operations of vaccine manufacturing.

"It’s definitely a humbling experience. I’m so grateful to be a part of it," said Burgan.

Part of the response to the pandemic, nationwide and here in Baltimore.

"We’re trying to make sure that vaccine also gets into our homes for our families and we’re trying to get life back to what it used to be," said Burgan.

They have no control over the vaccine distribution, but will make as many as they can.

"This facility, assuming EUA and international regulatory authorization, will produce hundreds of millions of doses, protect hundreds of millions of lives and potentially save tens of millions of lives over the coming months," said Kirk.

The FDA is meeting next week to decide whether or not to recommend the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for Emergency Use Authorization.