GRAND RAPIDS — Grand River Aseptic Manufacturing Inc. expects to ship the first filled vials today of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine, following approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration over the weekend.
The Grand Rapids-based contract producer of pharmaceuticals finishes production of a vaccine concentrate and fills sterile vials for J&J subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc. under a $160 million contract awarded last September by the federal government’s Operation Warp Speed.
The contract with Operation Warp Speed and J&J runs through 2021 “and potentially beyond that,” President and CEO Tom Ross told MiBiz.
Grand River Aseptic Manufacturing has been producing the vaccine for a few months in anticipation of the FDA approval, Ross said. The vials that Grand River Aseptic Manufacturing produces at its new $60 million, 60,000-square-foot facility that opened last summer near downtown Grand Rapids will go to another J&J facility for final distribution.
Ross called the company’s involvement in making the J&J vaccine an “honor” and a “privilege.” The development of the J&J vaccine in less than a year “was truly an amazing accomplishment,” he said.
“The opportunity to really save lives and to be part of this solution is something you can only dream of,” Ross said. “This is the type of thing you tell your grandkids about when you get a little bit older and reflect back on what you did in your career. This is an incredible opportunity for us.”
Grand River Aseptic has worked with J&J “tirelessly and endlessly on an accelerated timeline” to produce a vaccine for COVID-19 that “meets the same quality and safety standards that we’ve always upheld,” Ross said.
“The team has done amazing work and we are incredibly proud of what they have done and what we have accomplished and, ultimately, this has played a significant role in saving lives,” he said.
To handle the contract, Grand River Aseptic Manufacturing hired about 125 people over six months and now has a workforce of 350 people. The company plans to hire another 75 people through the year, from entry-level positions to experienced management roles.
The additional staff will “really support the tremendous growth and the additional capacity that we’re adding in the near future.”
GRAM plans to open a new 110,000-square-foot finishing center late this spring near the Gerald R. Ford International Airport, and has purchased sophisticated equipment for the facility near downtown that will arrive next year.
In a new outlook PNC Bank issued today, nearly half of small employers responding to a survey said they require employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine. More than one in five planned to provide incentives for employees to get vaccinated.
“Clearly, small and mid-sized business owners have high hopes that successful adoption of vaccinations by the public will translate into an improved business environment, but many challenges remain in front of them,” PNC Chief Economist Gus Faucher said.
Nearly half of employers PNC surveyed said they expect the growing availability of vaccinations to have a positive effect on their sales. About half as well said they face challenges to staying in business and nearly one-quarter indicated they can continue to operate in the current economic conditions for up to a year.