A Republican senator wants to know how a multi-million dollar contract for President Biden’s plan to send 50 million covid tests to Americans went to a California firm that manufactures a customized vodka bottle that can be programmed to say ‘I Love You.’
The Pentagon on Tuesday finally announced the first contracts for an administration plan to send out home covid tests that has faced repeated questions about who will make the tests, when they will be delivered, and how Americans will get them.
A top Health and Human Services official has confirmed that the first companies to be awarded a government contract aren’t making any new covid tests, and are instead warehousing previously made tests.
One such company is Medea Inc. of Pleasanton, California. The firm got into the business of personal protective equipment only at the start of the pandemic. Its first business offering was a vodka bottle equipped with special programmable LED lights and a bluetooth connection.
The bottle is equipped with six pre-programmed messages: ‘Happy Birthday, Happy Anniversary, Congratulations, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and for year-round toasts: ‘I Love You.’
The government has contracted with Medea Inc., which markets a vodka bottle equipped with lights that can be customized, for coronavirus test kits
That background alone prompted questions from Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, the top Republican on the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions at a Senate hearing.
‘So the best I can find – you mentioned 50 million doses having been contracted,’ he told Dawn O’Connell, Health and Human Services assistant secretary for preparedness and response Tuesday.
‘I can identify – 27 million [tests] out of two companies media Medea and Atlantic Trading. Neither one of them are manufacturers of tests and I believe the third one, Revival, is not a manufacturer of tests. Medea actually came to fame with importation of vodka, and tying cell phones to vodka. And like a lot of other companies that got in the PPE business in 2020, with some nominal FEMA contracts. Why should we have any confidence in these contracts, if in fact, we’re dealing with companies that don’t manufacture anything?’ he asked.
‘We’re giving them $190 million contract for about 14 million home tests, and their expertise is importation of vodka,’ said Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) at a hearing
The company got its start marketing the vodka. After the pandemic, it began contracting with the government to provide protective gear
The Biden administration is rushing to procure 50 million tests to send to Americans amid a nationwide shortage
HHS official Dawn O’Connell confirmed that the government went to companies that have, but do not produce, tests as it begins its effort to procure 50 million coronavirus tests
A Pentagon contracting release said: ‘DOD Awards Contracts to Purchase COVID-19 Antigen Over-the-Counter Test Kits in Support of POTUS’ 500 Million Free At-Home COVID-19 Tests’
Can it say ‘NEGATIVE?’: Purchasers can program the bottle to give a customized message
The other firm Burr mentioned, Atlantic Trading LLC, is based in Texas. According to a government procurement database, it got its first big contract in 2021 for $1 million worth of gear. Its first government contract was in August 2020 with FEMA for $114,000 worth of surgical masks.
Medea, after starting its vodka business in 2014, appears to have repositioned itself to be a provider of protective gear. It now provides face masks and respirators to the state of California and other clients.
O’Connell confirmed that the government first went to companies that have, but do not produce, tests – amid a nationwide shortage amid the omicron variant spike.
‘These tests, what we initially did to be able to access test for the initial shipments that will go towards the end of January, we worked with warehouses to see where additional tests were stored and assessed that additional capacity, and are bringing that capacity to bear for these initial tests that are going out, which is why you’re seeing contracts with warehouses and not with test manufacturers,’ O’Connell said.
So is what you’re telling me they’ve got 50 million tests and warehouses in the United States and all we did was access that inventory?’ Burr asked.
‘That is my understanding,’ O’Connell responded.
That prompted Burr to respond: ‘This is a very, very important piece – when you’ve got companies that don’t manufacture test, and all of a sudden, we’re giving them $190 million contract for about 14 million home tests, and their expertise is importation of vodka.’
The Pentagon announced the initial contract Tuesday with a headline that referenced President Biden, identified only as POTUS, for president of the United States.
‘DOD Awards Contracts to Purchase COVID-19 Antigen Over-the-Counter Test Kits in Support of POTUS’ 500 Million Free At-Home COVID-19 Tests,’ it said.
It mentioned the contracts with Atlantic Trading, LLC, based in Austin, and Medea Inc., for ‘purchasing a combined total of 27 million over-the-counter COVID-19 test kits’ – about half the demand.
A separate DOD notice said Medea had been awarded $190 million in a fixed-price contract. Bids were solicited over the internet, with three received, DOD said, with work estimated to be finished by Jan. 24.
The kits are funded by the American Rescue Plan. The Pentagon did the contracting for the Health and Human Services Department, out of its Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense (JPEO-CBRND) and its Defense Assisted Acquisition Cell at Army Contracting Command.
A government database lists Medea’s total government contracts to date at $49 million, beginning in 2020. Its first contract came in April 2020.
Medea didn’t respond directly to questions about whether its contract was only for items already warehouse or how it procured the tests.
‘While we cannot address HHS Assistant Secretary O’Connell’s statement that’s “why you’re seeing contracts with warehouses and not with testing manufacturers’ we can speak to Medea’s qualifications to aid in the effort to combat the Covid-19 pandemic,’ company CMO / Medea Relations Director Marie Moretti told DailyMail.com.
‘Medea Inc., established in 2014, is an experienced distribution company based in the Silicon Valley economic region. The company was founded by senior executives from Fortune 500 companies. During the Covid-19 pandemic, Medea’s medical and diagnostic products division has been able to assist in the distribution of much-needed test kits and Personal Protective Equipment (“PPE”),’ she said.
‘To highlight some of Medea’s accomplishments, the Company has successfully delivered over 30 million face masks and N95 respirators to FEMA, the State of California, the Federal Government of Mexico and others. During the pandemic, Medea also supplied millions of units of test kits and PPE to the private sector, including Lowe’s, the LA Lakers, Clippers, Kings and Galaxy, Microsoft Theater, the Washington Capitals, Anschutz Entertainment Group, Monumental Sports, Enterprise Center, Stifel Theatre, the Los Angeles Convention Center, J.P. Morgan Chase, Webcor, Emerson Electric and others throughout the United States and Canada,’ she said.
She said the firm fulfilled its prior FEMA contract ‘100%.’
‘Medea’s experience, capabilities and success have enabled it to partner with several industry leading manufacturers of test kits and PPE to distribute their products to the federal government and others. By way of example and without limitation, Medea is a sales agent of Becton Dickinson and premier distributor of Honeywell Safety Products, USA,’ she said.
A representative of Atlantic Trading LLC, which is described in one business directory as having two employees, hung up when first contacted and later said she would pass information on to the appropriate company official, who did not respond by press time Wednesday.
A company website says it prides itself on having a ‘unique high-level accesses and large-volume robust distribution network in global markets, as well as our commitment to bring to our clients best quality products and services at lightening speed with loyalty and integrity.’
‘With focus on agricultural products, meat and poultry, PPE (personal protective equipment) and medical devices and equipments, agricultural equipments and technology, we are steadily expanding into sectors of mineral, renewable technology, and others,’ it says.