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Scaling up production to billions of Covid-19 vaccine doses is complex and takes time, pharma rep says

Scaling up production to billions of Covid-19 vaccine doses is complex and takes time, pharma rep says

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VACCINATION is the pathway out of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, Ireland’s vaccine roll-out has been hamstrung by delivery changes and delays.

Earlier this week, it was revealed that Ireland has made €100million available in State aid to entice­ ­producers to use our country’s enormous pharmaceutical industry to help produce jabs.

Scaling up production to billions of Covid-19 vaccine doses is complex and takes time, pharma rep says
Vaccine rollout in Ireland has been slow.
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Scaling up production to billions of Covid-19 vaccine doses is complex and takes time, pharma rep says
Bernard Mallee

On Friday night, Taoiseach Micheal Martin held crunch talks with Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca’s bosses in a bid to start manufacturing jobs in Ireland. HSE Chief Executive Paul Reid said yesterday that the supply of vaccines “will improve.”

The manufacturing of a vaccine is a very complex process. The Pfizer/BioNTech one, for example, involves the use of over 280 materials. These materials come from 86 suppliers and 19 different countries.

Today, BERNARD MALLEE, Director of ­Communications at the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association, explains how vaccine production isn’t as easy as flicking a switch.


THE pandemic is still raging — but there is hope it will end soon.

We have science on our side and, as more people get vaccinated, society will eventually be steeled against further waves of Covid infection.

That will mean a return to normal life or, at least, a version of it. The past year has been harrowing for so many.

More than 4,500 people in Ireland have died from Covid.

The health authorities have recorded over 225,000 cases of the disease. That well over 530,000 people have received vaccine doses is positive. The impact of vaccination is clear.

As supply catches up with demand, Covid vaccinations will accelerate over the coming months. For now, though, people are, understandably, frustrated at the pace of the roll-out of Covid vaccines.

Scientific breakthroughs on Covid vaccines happened in record time, super-charged by unprecedented global collaboration without compromising safety or quality.


What usually takes years, maybe even decades, this time took months. Scaling production so that billions of vaccine doses are ready for the world is complex. It takes time.

Fluctuations in supply are usually a feature of manufacturing complex biological products. As more safe and effective vaccines are approved, the yield drop in one plant can be offset by a rise in another.

Only five or six biopharmaceutical groups in the world can make Covid vaccines at pace and scale.

Globally, there are some 60 manufacturing sites equipped to produce Covid vaccines. Building new medicines manufacturing plant can cost between US$500million and US$700 million. It takes between five and ten years to build, validate and certify one. There is no quick fix.

Some companies are sharing manufacturing capacity to boost supply.

Manufacturing sites across the world are working around the clock. Because of viral mutations, modified vaccines are already in development.


We are working through international organizations to supply poorer countries. Ireland, along with other countries, funds the Covax initiative. Our government has, in the main, adopted the right strategy of disease suppression and sequenced vaccination.

While Ireland is a medicines innovator, some sites in other countries are better suited to adapt to Covid vaccines manufacturing through upgrades investments.

Not all biologics or vaccine sites are suitable.

They have to meet a range of criteria, depending on the vaccine type. Manufacturing for vaccines is not ‘plug and play.’ You can’t just replace existing biologics manufacturing with vaccines.

The industry in Ireland specializes in manufacturing essential, life-saving complex biological medicines for many diseases such as cancer, HIV, immunological disorders, and rare conditions.

During the pandemic, medicines manufacturing has continued. We should not forget the importance of non-Covid care.


For the Covid vaccine to be effective in the community, enough of us need to be immunized. Our latest data, gathered by pollsters Ipsos MRBI, shows that just six percent of people will refuse a Covid vaccine.

More than three in four people will get immunized against the disease. That level of protection would likely confer herd immunity.

Last week, we activated a digital campaign to build public awareness of why vaccines are important — the science behind them, the rigorous safety, quality, and efficacy tests they undergo, and how the industry responds to unprecedented supply challenges.

Immunization is a global health and development success story. Vaccines save up to three million lives every year.

They prevent more than 20 life-threatening diseases.

In Ireland, many of us will have been immunized against measles, meningitis, and whooping cough, among other diseases. Vaccines have eliminated or controlled diseases like smallpox, polio, measles, diphtheria, and rubella.

That gives us the confidence to trust in science. It has brought us a step closer to the end of the pandemic and the gradual unlocking of society.

Our industry will keep working to scale supply, to stay alert to viral mutations, and to protect the intellectual property rights that make medical breakthroughs possible in the first place.

If we do all that, we will get through this together — healthier and more resilient.