The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown life off track and has taken in its grasp millions of lives. The only relief from the deadly coronavirus was the arrival of vaccines. Within a few months, the pharmaceutical firms have been able to come up with millions of doses. But, millions of doses are not enough for the world as it now needs billions. The firms have affirmed that they will be able to produce vaccines enough to immunize almost everyone on the planet by the time 2022 arrives. Of course, they haven’t considered some major factors such as delays due to political reasons, regulations imposed on export, the delivery of vaccines to the richer countries, so on and so forth.
How Many Vaccine Doses Can Be Produced in 2021?
According to an analytics company based in London, the pharmaceutical industry is not willing to reveal its capacity to produce vaccines. However, there might be rapid growth in production in the following months. By the end of February 2021, 413 million doses are said to have been produced, if the recent data is taken into consideration. If the trend continues, by 2022, there will be 9.5 billion doses. If the forecast by the vaccine manufacturers is believed to be true, the researchers from the Global Health Innovation Center predict the figure to be around 12 billion by the end of 2021. With that being said, some experts believe that 12 billion doses are achievable not by the end of 2021, but by the end of 2022. They fear that if there is a breakdown in the supply chain, many countries can impose a ban on vaccine exports.
As a matter of fact, European Union has already put restrictions on the export of vaccines. The production of vaccines needs over 200 components such as glass vials, tubing, filters, resin, disposable bags, etc. If there is a shortage in any one of these components, the manufacturing process gets disrupted. Experts at the World Health Organization are hopeful that a minimum of one bottleneck will be avoided and that is the fill and finish – filling up the glass vials with the substance. The World Health Organization has been connecting the producers of components to pharmaceutical firms.
According to the current statistics, high-income and upper-middle-income nations are said to have procured over 6 billion out of total vaccine doses of 8.6 billion. This is the data that has come out on the 19th of March, 2021. Lower-middle-income and lower-income nations have received vaccine doses much less than 1 million each. This is something that’s indeed worrying the health experts.
Can Companies Join Hands to Speed Up the Process of Vaccine Manufacture?
Yes. Some companies are working together. Pharmaceutical firms that competed with each other have now joined hands. Kenilworth-based Merck has collaborated with its rival, the New Brunswick-based Johnson & Johnson, and is manufacturing vaccines for the latter. Another example is that of GSK of London and Switzerland’s Novartis are busy producing 100 million and 250 million vaccine doses for Germany’s CureVac. This extent of collaboration has been never seen before. The fill-and-finish deals have been signed between Sanofi from Paris, France, and BioNTech from Mainz, Germany to complete late-stage production of 125 million vaccine doses manufactured by BioNTech and Pfizer from New York City, U.S.A.
Why aren’t Enough Vaccines Being Produced?
The COVID-19 vaccine is of three types – viral vector, whole virus, and mRNA or messenger RNA. By the time March 2021 arrived, 179 million vaccine doses were manufactured which was around 43% of the total. In comparison to that, the whole virus constituted about 35% of the total while the viral vector constituted about 22%. The main issue in the manufacture of mRNA vaccines is the lack of supply of components like enzymes, lipids, and nucleotides. Only a handful of companies manufacture these products and therefore, the global supply has not been up to the mark. Moreover, the companies have been moving at snail’s speed to receive a license for their manufacturing.
As far as the lower-middle-income and lower-income countries getting vaccines is concerned, countries like South Africa are campaigning to temporarily waive off the intellectual property rights of COVID-19 vaccines so that people in poor countries can get vaccinated. It is high time the world unites to put an end to the pandemic, which is one of the deadliest in modern history.