Analysis of global manufacturing capacity shows that only two billion doses could be manufactured in 2021, even if a vaccine received the green light from safety regulators earlier this year.
But with seven of the nine prototype vaccines in late-stage clinical trials requiring two doses, that’s likely enough to immunize just over 12 percent of the 7.8 billion people who need it.
Dr Cleo Kontoravdi, associate professor of chemical engineering at Imperial College London, told Sky News: “We need to be clear that not everyone will have access to the vaccine first. We don’t have the manufacturing capacity. “
Calculations by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations show that even if manufacturing capacity doubled, as expected, over the next 12 months, less than half of the world’s population could be protected by the end of 2022.
This could mean that some travel restrictions and social distancing will be needed for years to come, unless there is a revolutionary advance in vaccine technology that is ramping up production.
But manufacturing large quantities of vaccines is just one of the many hurdles to overcome in the coming months.
One of the biggest bottlenecks has traditionally been at the “fill and finish” stage of production, when the vaccine is put into glass vials, labeled and packaged.
It needs multiple supply chains to converge seamlessly, with the end product meeting high quality standards. Any hiccups can cause delays.
Sky News gained access to the Wockhardt plant in Wrexham, where a high-speed production line was purchased by the government to produce a finished vaccine over the next 18 months.
Preparations are underway to start production of the Oxford Vaccine from November. Between two and three million vials, each containing eight doses, could be produced each month.
Ravi Limaye, managing director of Wockhardt in the UK, said the vials will be quarantined until the vaccine is approved by safety regulators – but will need to be destroyed if, for some reason, they are refused.
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“This is a risk to be taken given the enormity of this pandemic,” he said.
“This is an unprecedented step taken by the government in the interest of the UK to prepare the vaccine so that, if approved by regulators, it can be used immediately.
“It’s a risk but a calculated risk. “