Vaccine Makers Warn Bottlenecks, Nationalism Threaten Production

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Moderna Inc. and GlaxoSmithKline Plc are among a group of drugmakers calling for countries to remove trade barriers related to Covid-19 vaccines amid worsening shortages of basic products needed to manufacture shots globally.

The industry is highlighting that the world needs more raw materials, including lipids used in the messenger RNA vaccines, tubing and plastic bags, according to a press briefing Friday on Covid-19 manufacturing led by the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations. Panelists criticized the use of the U.S. Defense Production Act to protect U.S. supplies, as that’s aggravating the problem.

Vaccine production depends on the availability of more than 100 components and ingredients. As the industry prepares to make as many as 10 billion doses this year, rising nationalism is threatening those plans, drugmakers and trade groups warned. U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration is weighing an appeal from progressive Democrats to accelerate global access to Covid-19 vaccines.

Along with bottlenecks for raw materials, the industry is also wrestling with finding enough qualified people to scale up manufacturing.

“We’re all operating making products which are sterile. That means that they have to be made to the highest standard,” said Roger Connor, Glaxo’s president of global vaccines and the chief vaccine representative on Covax, an initiative designed to level global access. “Sterile understanding and process understanding, that is not something that you can suddenly just retrain overnight.”

Finding enough skilled people is an issue Moderna has run up against in recent weeks, according to Stephane Bancel, the company’s chief executive officer, who was also on the panel Friday. Moderna said last week it would deliver less vaccine than planned to the U.K., Canada and other countries this quarter due to a shortfall in doses in its European supply chain.

The company is working with Swiss partner Lonza Group AG to make the shots in Europe, which has had some problems with a lack of staff, Bancel said.

“We’ve had indeed some delays in hiring of people in Lonza,” Bancel said. “I know the teams are working really hard to close that gap and to make sure we can maximize every dose that we can make. But this is why there has been in some countries a little bit of delays in the last week or two.”

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