Blips in vaccine supply will fall over year, pharma experts say

Blips in Covid vaccine supply will vanish now manufacturing ‘bumps’ have been ironed out, pharmaceutical experts say

  • Pharmaceutical bosses claim jab manufacturers have ironed out their processes 
  • Ministers blamed drops in the vaccine rollout across the UK on ‘lumpy supply’ 
  • Supply of the vaccine is expected to be more steady with more regular batches 

Supplies of Covid vaccines will become steadier over the course of the year, experts said today.

Manufacturing blips saw Britain dish out fewer doses in February, sparking fears that lockdown may have been needed for longer. The inoculation drive must go smoothly for No10 to relax restrictions over the coming months.  

Pharmaceutical bosses today said difficulties in scaling up manufacturing quickly at the start of year resulted in a bumpy supply.

But they claimed both Pfizer and AstraZeneca have now ironed out the kinks in their processes, which should result in a smooth delivery pattern.

It comes after it was revealed up to 10million extra vaccine doses could be available to the UK within days following a surge in supply. 

Vaccine supply will become more steady over the course of the year, pharmaceutical bosses have claimed

Consideration will have to be given to how vaccines continue to be manufactured as the world emerges from the coronavirus pandemic, an expert has said.

Vaccines are currently produced in multiple-dose glass vials, but given the speciality of these, they may not be a viable option going forward as billions of people require jabs every year.

Dr Ian Muir, chief executive of Porton Biopharma and lead for the contract manufacture team of the UK’s Vaccine Task Force, said there are only a few manufacturers in the world who can make the specialised vials the vaccines are currently delivered in.

He told a press briefing: ‘We realised very early on in the Vaccine Task Force that this would be a key component and thinking ahead.

‘And so, as the UK and with the companies involved we made very definitive moves to make sure that we secured large quantities of vials and the stoppers.’

He added the supply chain for the vials is getting longer as demand for them grows around the world.

Dr Muir said: ‘As we look forward more globally, I think the question that needs to be addressed is whether 10-dose glass vials are really the answer for seven billion people and whether we need to look at other delivery systems.’ 

Ministers have regularly blamed drops in the rollout across the UK on ‘lumpy supply’, with batches not all yielding the same number of doses.

Last month Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, described the process as like making beer.

Speaking at a press briefing today Steve Bagshaw, the non-executive director of the Centre for Process Innovation, which is part of the national taskforce to develop vaccines, said manufacturers have already steadied the ship.

He said: ‘I think the steadiness of supply has been established and as you see 2021 unfold I think there it will be much more consistent.’

And Dr Dave Tudor, the managing director of Medicines Manufacturing Innovation Centre — which develops pharmaceuticals — said AztraZeneca has ‘smoothed out the bumps’ in its manufacturing.

He said: ‘The AstraZeneca vaccine is a complex biological process so I think the work it has done in the last few months has been extraordinary. 

‘They’ve very quickly smoothed out the bumps in the road and got it running now.’

The AstraZeneca vaccine is based on a genetically engineered virus made to look like the coronavirus – so must be grown naturally.

The cells needed to make the jab will only reproduce as fast as they naturally can, and astronomical quantities of them are needed, which means the process will always take a minimum amount of time.

AstraZeneca says it takes three months, on average, to make each batch of the vaccine.

Numerous ones are made at the same time but this means that there is an upper limit to how much or how fast one plant can make jabs.

And the yields of these natural batches are also not entirely controllable – the company said it had not produced as much as it had hoped at the start of the production. 

Up to 10 million extra vaccine doses could be available to UK within days as surge in supply boosts roll-out 

Up to 10 million extra vaccine doses could be available to the UK within days following a surge in supply, in another major boost for the country’s vaccine roll-out.

As the number of Britons having had their first Covid jab last night topped 22 million, figures revealed the Scottish Government now has access to around 900,000 unused doses.

Though the Government has so far refused to give data on its vaccine supply, the figure from Scotland, which is given a share of the UK’s total jab stockpile, means the total across Britain could be up to 10 million.

The boost means the UK could increase the rate it gives out second doses, without impacting on the rate it is giving out the first doses. It will also be a boost to hopes that the Government can extend the roll-out to all over 50s later this month. 

It comes as Wales’ First Minister Mark Drakeford last night alleviated fears of over a ‘dip’ in the vaccination.

He told the i newspaper that the dip was now over, as the UK prepares to enter what he described as a ‘crucial stage’ of its jab rollout.

Mr Drakeford said: ‘We are confident that we are past the couple of weeks where there was a dip in supply and we will be getting significantly greater volumes during the month of March.’

Last month the country’s highly-praised vaccination roll-out began to stall after getting off to a rapid start – which put the UK far ahead of its European neighbours.

Just 192,000 people were vaccinated on Monday, February 23 and 142,000 the day before, in two of the lowest daily tolls since the mammoth operation began to gather steam at the start of the year. 

Ministers have repeatedly blamed the ‘lumpy’ supply of vaccines as being the ‘rate-limiting factor’ of the programme. 

Officials say shrinking deliveries were expected because Pfizer had to improve its key factory in Belgium at the start of the year, and AstraZeneca’s production was slower to get off the ground than planned.

However, both drug giants have insisted that there are no unforeseen issues with the supply chain.

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