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Industry at the limits of its capacity: More and more bottlenecks in vaccine ingredients

Industry at capacity limits
More and more shortages of vaccine ingredients

It should go faster with vaccination, billions of vaccine doses are promised by the end of 2021. The ingredients and materials to make these are running out, however. A huge increase in capacity is necessary, both on the production side and with suppliers.

The unprecedented need and production of the corona vaccines are pushing the industry to its capacity limits. “Vaccine manufacturers and suppliers are increasingly reporting bottlenecks in raw and packaging materials and equipment,” said the Chatham House think tank in Geneva. She had organized a meeting with representatives from industry, associations and the UN vaccination initiative Covax to find solutions.

A strategy paper discussed at the meeting stated that larger production volumes would be necessary through efficiency improvements in existing factories, the conversion of existing older factories to produce the new fabrics and the construction of new factories. The deliberations are delicate. Pharmaceutical companies are under pressure to temporarily suspend the patents of the corona vaccines they have developed. The aim is to enable more companies around the world to produce the vaccines.

South Africa and India are pioneers of this demand in the World Trade Organization (WTO). The countries with resident pharmaceutical companies reject this, as does the pharmaceutical industry. She argues that the production processes are highly complex and that they have already signed license agreements with all manufacturers who are able to produce. There is also concern that a company’s reputation could be irreparably damaged if a manufacturer makes mistakes in the production process and the vaccine does not work or causes severe side effects.

Sometimes more than 100 components are required

The industry has announced the production of up to 14 billion vaccine doses by the end of 2021, according to the paper. That would be three to four times as much vaccine as was previously produced per year. Bottlenecks in the raw materials for the vaccines and packaging threatened to nullify the promises. The supply chains are complex because sometimes more than 100 components are required for a vaccine and packaging.

Both supply and production capacities would have to be expanded. The challenges are that in view of the virus variants, the need is difficult to estimate. In some places, as a precaution, glass vials are already being hoarded. There are too few standard sizes, so ordering from suppliers other than the usual ones is difficult. Efforts to limit exports made the market situation even more difficult. Large production facilities are located in regions that already have export controls.

Bottlenecks became apparent in many areas, such as bioreactor bags for cell cultures, fetal calf serum as a medium for cell cultures, glass vials and nanoparticles, in which some vaccines have to be stored. The discussions took place behind closed doors and the participants were guaranteed confidentiality. Concrete solutions were initially not presented.

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