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Pfizer & BioNTech To Increase Production of Vaccine Doses

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has expressed concern about wealthy nations buying up the supply of vaccines and leaving none for the developing world. The pandemic cannot be defeated unless vaccines are distributed equitably, he argued.

German biotech company BioNTech and its United States pharmaceutical partner Pfizer Inc. announced Monday plans to boost production of its Covid-19 vaccine by 700 million doses.

The joint producers of the first Covid-19 vaccine found to be effective against the virus initially planned to manufacture 1.5 billion doses in 2021 having received approval by regulators in the United Kingdom, United States, the European Union, and more than 40 other countries.

But the companies now intend to provide as many as 2 billion after BioNTech added to its production capacity in its home country Germany, it said in a statement.

A new production site in Marburg, Germany, is expected to become operational by the end of next month and will be able to make as many as 750 million doses per year. 

That means a total of six facilities will be producing the vaccine – three in Germany, and three operated by Pfizer in the U.S. 

Also Read: No. You Can’t Get Covid Vaccine in Dubai Like Atiku

Also, a change in European Union rules allowing an additional shot – a sixth dose – to be extracted from every vial, similar to the U.S. and the UK, have also boosted European supplies. 

Last week, the EU announced a deal for an additional 300 million doses of the vaccine, doubling their supply to 600 million. The U.S. also has the option to buy up to 600 million doses while Britain has ordered 40 million and Japan 120 million. 

The new production total “is based on continuous process improvements and expansion at the current facilities, and contingent upon adding more suppliers as well as contract manufacturers,” BioNTech’s statement read, as cited by the Financial Times.

The companies have shipped almost 33 million doses of the vaccine so far from six manufacturing sites in America and Europe, it said. More than 1 billion doses to be produced this year have been sold and committed for delivery. 

Equitable distribution

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said last week it is continuing negotiations with the companies about securing doses for the vaccine cooperative COVAX, organised by the agency to provide vaccines for low-income nations. No agreement has been reached.

A particular problem is the storage requirement of the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine. The shots need to be kept at minus 70c during transit – colder than Antarctica – meaning it is difficult to distribute in countries without cold-chain infrastructure. 

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has expressed concern about wealthy nations buying up the supply of vaccines and leaving none for the developing world. The pandemic cannot be defeated unless vaccines are distributed equitably, he argued.

Also Read: Covid-19: Nigeria to Vaccinate 40 Percent of Population in 2021

Some African countries have made significant progress in this regard. The South African government has a deal with the Serum Institute of India for the supply of 1.5 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford. The first batches of supply are to begin in the first quarter of 2021, January, and the remaining batches in February.

Nigerian meanwhile expects to receive 100,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine by the end of January, through the first phase of the COVAX facility, while the second phase will see the government receive free delivery of 42 million doses of approved vaccines currently available.

Pfizer and BioNTech have cautioned that two doses of the vaccine need to be taken 21 days apart to deliver the best protection. But several countries have said indicated they plan to delay the second dose in order to give more people at least one dose as soon as possible. Data from phase 3 trials of the shots showed that recipients gained partial protection from the virus as early as 12 days after the first dose.

Effective against Britain, South Africa strains

A preliminary study shows that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine works against the key mutation in coronavirus variants uncovered in Britain and South Africa, which studies have found to be more contagious than the original Covid-19 strain.

Tests carried out have shown that “antibodies from people who have received the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine effectively neutralise SARS-CoV-2 with a key mutation that is also found in two highly transmissible strains,” the German company said in a statement last Friday.

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