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Coronavirus Roundup: Vaccines Sent to All State Department Posts Abroad; SBA Makes Progress on Oversight and Fraud Detection for Pandemic Programs 

There's a lot to keep track of. Here’s today’s list of news updates and stories you may have missed.

In his remarks on Wednesday afternoon, President Biden will say the United States will reach over 200 million vaccine shots this week, according to a White House official, shared by the White House press pool. As of Wednesday morning, 51.1% of U.S. adults had received at least one vaccine dose and 33.3% were fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s data. Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed. 

State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said on Tuesday that the department had delivered vaccines to all of its posts abroad, as of Sunday. “This announcement represents over 190,000 doses distributed to 220 postings around the world, allowing us to offer the vaccine to all direct-hire employees, locally engaged staff, and eligible family members,” he said. “Thanks to the work of countless people – our diplomatic couriers, post representatives, logisticians, and clinicians both here in the United States and around the world – not a single dose was lost in transit since we began our vaccine rollout in December of last year.” 

The Defense Department said on Tuesday it expects to start receiving 390,000 vaccine doses weekly, which is up from an average of 155,500 per week. “[Eighty-three] percent of vaccines received by the Defense Department have been administered, exceeding the U.S. average of 78%, and more than 28% of our total force is now vaccinated,” Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said during a briefing on Monday. 

The Defense Department inspector general published a quarter two update on its 2021 coronavirus oversight plan on Tuesday. One of its ongoing audits is looking at how effective the department’s vaccine distribution and administration was. 

The House Oversight and Reform Committee and Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis launched an investigation earlier this week into the $628 million contract the manufacturing plant Emergent received in June 2020 to produce Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca’s vaccines. “Specifically, we are investigating reports that Emergent received multi-million-dollar contracts to manufacture coronavirus vaccines despite a long, documented history of inadequately trained staff and quality control issues,” the committee chairs wrote. “Dr. Robert Kadlec, who served as Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response under President Trump and previously worked as a consultant for Emergent, appears to have pushed for this award despite indications that Emergent did not have the ability to reliably fulfill the contract.” 

The Food and Drug Administration issued a report on Wednesday morning about its inspection of the Emergent facility that finished on Tuesday. Observations from the FDA included, “failure to conduct thorough investigations into unexplained discrepancies;” cleanliness, sanitary and operational issues; and “inadequate” written procedures to handle drug substances, lack of employee training and improper equipment. At the request of the FDA the facility has paused production while it works with the agency to fix the issues and vaccines that have already been manufactured there will undergo further review before being distributed, said acting FDA Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock and Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. They also reiterated that “the FDA has not authorized this facility to manufacture or distribute any of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine or components and, to date, no COVID-19 vaccine manufactured at this plant has been distributed for use in the United States.” 

A year ago the Trump administration awarded almost $1.3 billion in contracts and loans to a Connecticut company for vaccine syringes, and none have been produced, NBC News reported on Wednesday. “As the U.S. vaccine rollout hits full stride, with about half of adults in the U.S. having already received at least one injection, the need for ApiJect's device has waned, leaving the contracts and loans in question,” said the report. “According to ApiJect, two vaccine makers have requested FDA approval to use its syringe with their products, but neither federal regulators nor any of the vaccine makers would confirm any approval requests.” The company didn’t give the names. 

The Government Accountability Office said in a report released on Tuesday that the Small Business Administration is making progress on curbing potential fraud in its pandemic relief programs and oversight of them. The watchdog noted its review of the Paycheck Protection Program and of Economic Injury Disaster Loans is ongoing. 

Due to the ongoing risks from the pandemic, the State Department announced earlier this week that it strongly recommends not traveling abroad. “This update will result in a significant increase in the number of countries at Level 4: Do Not Travel, to approximately 80% of countries worldwide,” said the department. “This does not imply a reassessment of the current health situation in a given country, but rather reflects an adjustment in the State Department's Travel Advisory system to rely more on CDC's existing epidemiological assessments.”

Many in the federal acquisition community hope the government’s procurement changes for the pandemic remain permanent, Federal News Network reported on Tuesday. “We have a lot of young people, they’re comfortable with this, and they’re going to continue to want to move and use these tools to procure these things,” Andrew Jernell, Food and Drug Administration’s director of information technology acquisitions, said during a panel. “There’s now a new level of expectation. It’s like, ‘Well, you guys did an acquisition in a month during the pandemic, and now you’re gonna tell me it takes nine months?’ That’s just not going to fly as we move forward.”

Upcoming:

  • Press Secretary Jen Psaki will give a briefing at 12:15 p.m.
  • President Biden will give remarks at 1:15 p.m about the coronavirus response and vaccine progress. 

Help us understand the situation better. Are you a federal employee, contractor or military member with information, concerns, etc. about how your agency is handling the coronavirus? Email us at newstips@govexec.com.

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