Members Produce COVID-19 Vaccines

Members of Local 10-00086 this spring joined the growing numbers of Steelworkers confronting the coronavirus pandemic head-on in their workplaces, this time by stepping up to help produce COVID-19 vaccines.

In March, the workers at pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. in West Point, Pa., north of Philadelphia, began assisting in the production of rival Johnson & Johnson’s COVID vaccine. By late May, the workers will be mixing the key drug component with other ingredients and filling vials with the vaccine.

“Our membership is very proud to be a part of the fight to put an end to this pandemic and save the country, and the world,” said Local 10-00086 President Mike Gauger.

‘Adjusting on the Fly’

A line in the facility was already set aside for a potential Merck vaccine, and changes will be made to that line to produce the Johnson & Johnson product.

“We’re really good at adjusting on the fly and meeting a challenge like this,” Gauger said.

Local 10-00086 is far from the only USW unit whose members are contributing to the work involved in overcoming the coronavirus pandemic. Not far from their facility, the members of Local 286 played a role in packaging and distributing vaccine doses.

In addition, members of Local 701-01 in New Jersey make glass tubes that are used to produce vaccine vials, and members of 2-432 in Wisconsin made special sleeves and inserts to protect vaccines during shipment.

Thanks to their work and that of thousands of others, as USW@Work went to press, Americans were receiving COVID-19 vaccines at a pace of more than 3 million doses per day, bringing the total number of fully vaccinated people in the country to nearly 200 million by the end of April, well ahead of President Joe Biden’s initial goal of vaccinating 100 million people in his first 100 days, which ended on April 30.

Preventing Virus Spread

Before they could begin their work to help vaccinate the American public, USW members first had to work with their employers to ensure that the virus did not spread through their workplaces.

Thanks to the cooperative, proactive measures members across the continent took to keep themselves and their co-workers safe, employers had thousands of healthy workers ready to contribute to vaccine production and delivery, as well as to manufacture other essential products that Americans needed to persevere through the pandemic.

“Combatting this virus requires a sustained commitment,” said International President Tom Conway. “We’ve learned much during this pandemic, and one of the essential lessons is that America is nothing without its workers.”

‘We Can Get it Done’

The West Point facility, where members are producing Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses, employs a total of about 7,300 people, with roughly 4,000 in manufacturing, making it the largest employer in Montgomery County, northwest of Philadelphia. It is also a major research site for Merck and serves as headquarters for its global vaccines business.

“We have a very experienced and devoted work force, and I truly believe when Merck is challenged, they know they can come here to West Point and we can get it done,” Gauger said.

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