US bets on young, untested company to deliver COVID-19 vaccine

Coronavirus

FILE – In this March 16, 2020, file photo, a patient receives a shot in the first-stage safety study clinical trial of a potential vaccine for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle. When precious vats of COVID-19 vaccine are finally ready, the ability to jab the lifesaving solution into the arms of Americans will require hundreds of millions of injections.
(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

WASHINGTON, D.C. (AP/KCAU) – When precious vats of COVID-19 vaccine are finally ready, the ability to jab the lifesaving solution into the arms of Americans will require hundreds of millions of injections. 

As part of its strategy to administer the vaccine as quickly as possible, the Trump administration has agreed to invest more than half a billion in tax dollars in ApiJect Systems America, a young company created to develop an ultra low-cost prefilled syringe that would reduce the need to reuse needles in the developing world.

This undated image provided by ApiJect Systems America in July 2020 shows a prototype of their “BFS” prefilled syringe. The devices are self-contained: the soft plastic blister is squeezed to push a dosage through the attached needle to inject into a patient. It also includes a computer chip that can transmit information about the drug, dose, location and time of administration.
(ApiJect Systems America via AP)

Its injector is not approved by federal health authorities and the company hasn’t yet set up a factory to manufacture the unapproved devices. 

The commitment to ApiJect dwarfs the other needle orders the government has placed with a major manufacturer and two other small companies. 

“The fact of this matter is, it would be crazy for people to just rely on us. I would be the first to say it,” said ApiJect CEO Jay Walker. “We should be America’s backup at this point, but probably not its primary.”

ApiJect received a no-bid contract earlier this year from the Defense Department under an exception for “unusual and compelling urgency.” Authorities said the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, tasked with buying the necessary supplies, “does not have the resources or capacity to conduct procurements necessary to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to a June 5 military document.

The government promised ApiJect $138 million to produce 100 million of its devices by the end of the year, which will require the company to retrofit new manufacturing lines in existing factories. And it’s offered another $456 million as part of a public-private partnership contract to bring online several new factories to make another 500 million devices to “contain the pandemic spread to minimize the loss of life and impact to the United States economy,” said the document.

Trump administration officials would not say why they are investing so heavily in ApiJect’s technology. The company has made only about 1,000 prototypes to date, and it’s not clear whether those devices can deliver the vaccines that are currently in development. 

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