Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar and Centers for Disease Control Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield and Gov. Eric Holcomb toured the Catalent facility in Bloomington on Tuesday afternoon.
Pence also discussed Operation Warp Speed, the public-private partnership formed by the government to help develop, manufacture and distribute COVID-19 vaccines, during a roundtable discussion following the tour.
The group arrived on Air Force Two at Monroe County Airport just before 1 p.m. and wwas greeted by Gov. Eric Holcomb, according to tweets from Michael Reschke with the Herald-Times. They toured the factory manufacturing the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. Pence was taken past a filling station, a packaging station and a labeling station during the tour.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to approve the Moderna vaccine in the coming weeks, at which point Catalent will ship it to distributors and it will be sent around the country. In addition, Pence announced during the event that the FDA approved the first over-the-counter, at-home coronavirus test.
Catalent's goal is to have 20 million doses of the Moderna vaccine shipped from Bloomington by the end of December, pending FDA approval. Then an additional 80 million doses in the first quarter of 2021 and another 100 million by mid-2021 will be made. Denis Johnson, Bloomington's Catalent vice president and general manager, said he is confident Catalent will hit those goals, and Scott Nickerson, Moderna’s vice president of U.S. manufacturing, echoed this confidence.
Catalent President and chief operating officer Alessandro Maselli said the facility is proud of the role it has been playing and that employees have been working 24/7 with many volunteering for shifts on Thanksgiving and during the upcoming holidays.
“I hope the people at Catalent know what they’re doing is healing America,” Pence said.
Pence said he got to meet employees through the glass in the facility but wishes he could “elbow bump” every one of them.
Pence and Holcomb praised how quickly vaccines have been able to be developed, including the Johnson and Johnson vaccine and the Astra-Zeneca vaccine which are both in late stage trials. They said most vaccines in history take eight to 12 years to develop but these have taken eight to 12 months. Pence tweeted about this later as well.
The first 55,575 doses of the Pfizer vaccine arrived in Indiana this week. Holcomb said that thanks to Pence and the task force, the delivery has been smooth. Redfield said the CDC has and will continue to implement initiatives to help with vaccine information, including a hotline for clinicians who may have questions and an app to track adverse reactions to the vaccine.
He said he feels the “greatest threat” is vaccine hesitancy and urged Americans to get vaccinated and feel confident that it is safe and effective.
“We need to embrace them as we see the ultimate light at the end of the tunnel,” Redfield said.
Pence said he will be getting the vaccine soon and reiterated Redfield’s point later saying, “I want American people to be confident. We have cut red tape but cut no corners when it comes to the development of the vaccine.”
He mentioned the multi-layer process and independent review the FDA has done and called it the “gold standard.”
Both Reidfold and Pence also encouraged Americans to keep protecting themselves against the virus by washing hands, social distancing and wearing a mask.
Pence and his group returned back to the airport and left Bloomington around 3:45 p.m. to return to Washington, D.C.
His visit comes as the state is facing the worst numbers since the beginning of the pandemic. Holcomb said the state was “on fire” during a press conference last week in reference to all of the 92 counties in Indiana being in orange or red on the health department’s COVID-19 analytics map.
There were 35 new deaths and 4,967 new cases bringing the total to 433,242 and 6,840 total deaths. The average daily new cases in Indiana for the last week is 6,170 cases, according to the New York Times map.
Correction: This story has been updated to fix the spelling of Catalent. The IDS regrets this error.