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

Trump administration agrees to invest more than half a billion in tax dollars in ApiJect Systems America

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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)

When precious vats of COVID-19 vaccine are finally ready, jabbing 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 whose injector is not approved by federal health authorities and that hasn’t yet set up a factory to manufacture the devices.

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

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EDITOR’S NOTE -- This story is part of an ongoing investigation by The Associated Press, the PBS series FRONTLINE and the Global Reporting Centre that examines the deadly consequences of the fragmented worldwide medical supply chain.

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“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.”

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. So far, the leading candidates are using traditional vials to hold the vaccine, and needles and syringes in their clinical trials.