How anticipated COVID-19 vaccines are bulk manufactured under Operation Warp Speed

With $628 million from the U.S. government, Emergent BioSolutions in Baltimore is scaling up separate Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines, which are still pending FDA approval.

How COVID vaccines are bulk manufactured
How COVID vaccines are bulk manufactured 03:26

Operation Warp Speed, the U.S. government's crash program to inoculate 300 million Americans against the coronavirus, includes a number of pharmaceutical partners like Emergent BioSolutions in Baltimore. CBS News correspondent David Martin toured one of Emergent's manufacturing suites where the company is producing two COVID-19 vaccines awaiting FDA approval. 

Emergent's Executive Vice President Sean Kirk says the company operates at the middle stage of drug manufacturing. They are currently scaling up two vaccines developed by Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca into a bulk drug substance. In another facility, that substance "gets filled into the final vial presentation you're used to seeing when you're getting a vaccination at the clinic," says Kirk. 

Emergent's process of scaling up a vaccine can take several weeks before the bulk drug substance is shipped out to be bottled.  

Given the directives of Operation Warp Speed, Emergent is manufacturing two different vaccines that haven't yet been approved by the FDA. 

"Should one of those candidates fall by the wayside due to a failure to demonstrate safety or efficacy in the clinic, we expect the U.S. government would then pivot [Emergent] to focus on another vaccine candidate. We have the technological capability to do so," says Sean Kirk. He says he thinks Emergent will be manufacturing hundreds of millions of doses of a COVID vaccine next year, regardless of which drug is ultimately approved.