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Supply gap for Covid19 vaccines to remain through most of the year

This assessment says that the global demand for vaccines in this year was likely to be between 10 and 14 billion doses, depending on the proportion of population countries choose to vaccinate and the need for re-vaccination or booster doses.

Written by Anuradha Mascarenhas | Pune |
March 11, 2021 12:20:41 am
Covid vaccineThe discussion paper says while the demand for the vaccines was likely to be met if all the production targets were fulfilled, shortages could be expected in the short term, especially if the vaccines still under development do not get approval or there are supply bottlenecks in the supply of raw or packaging materials, consumables or equipment. (File)

While production target set by vaccine manufacturers for Covid19 vaccines for this year add to a total of about 14 billion doses, possibly more than the projected demand, the actual supply of these vaccines is expected to be inadequate through most of the year, according to a new assessment released at a meeting of vaccine stakeholders.

This assessment says that the global demand for vaccines in this year was likely to be between 10 and 14 billion doses, depending on the proportion of population countries choose to vaccinate and the need for re-vaccination or booster doses.

“Estimates of the percentage of the population required to meet herd immunity vary, but a working estimate is 70 per cent, or about 5.5 billion people worldwide, thus requiring 11 billion doses of a two-dose regimen (subject to change if new variants of the virus are more transmissible),” says a discussion paper released at the Vaccine Manufacturing and Supply Chain Summit, which was co-sponsored by World Health Organisation’s Covax facility that is working to make Covid19 vaccines available to all.

The discussion paper says while the demand for the vaccines was likely to be met if all the production targets were fulfilled, shortages could be expected in the short term, especially if the vaccines still under development do not get approval or there are supply bottlenecks in the supply of raw or packaging materials, consumables or equipment.

“Even if these developments turn out favourably, disparity will persist in the majority of 2021 in any scenario but most demand could be met by the end of 2021. If these developments turn out less favourably, disparity could persist for much longer,” it says.

Pointing to “significant geographical demand and supply imbalances”, the discussion paper says that of the 9-11 billion doses of vaccines booked in advance by countries, or being made available through the Covax facility, about half, or five billion doses were meant for high-income countries. The upper and middle income countries had booked between two and three billion doses, while the 92 low and middle income countries had secured another 2-3 billion doses.

The discussion paper also highlights the key challenges in the supply of input materials for the production of vaccines, a subject that was recently raised by Adar Poonawalla, CEO of the Pune-based Serum Institute of India, a key player in making Covid19 vaccines available globally.

“Signs of input supply challenges are being observed across all vaccine manufacturing steps, e.g. bioreactor bags, single-use systems, cell culture media, filters, gamma sterilisation, vials. These individual challenges are amplified as the absence of any single input can disturb the entire manufacturing process,” it says, adding that the tendency of “safety stocking” was compounding this problem.

“The capacity limitations are further aggravated by a tendency towards higher stock-keeping to counter uncertainties and trade barriers… The challenge of this uncertainty-induced increased stocking is that it can lead to negative consequences beyond direct input availability for Covid19 vaccines, including write-offs and impact on production of other health products requiring the same inputs,” it says.

Speaking at an online event on Tuesday night, Thomas Cueni, director general of International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations said that the bottlenecks were not unexpected, considering the scale of the problem, but needed to be sorted out quickly. He said before the Covid19 crisis, the world was manufacturing only about 3.5 billion doses of vaccines. Within this year, the production capacity has already been ramped up to at least 10 billion doses.

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“We should not be surprised if there are bumps along the road, in the manufacturing process itself as well as on the whole supply chain… It will inevitably lead to bottlenecks, but these need to be address urgently. We are deeply aware that we are not only in a war against the virus, but also in a war against time, because we know that no one is safe until everyone is safe,” he said.

Sai Prasad, President of Developing Countries Vaccine Manufacturers’ Network said the epidemic could be conquered only through an equal participation of innovators and manufacturers. “Developing country vaccine manufacturers and industry have led through innovation and large scale manufacturing. With rapid capacity expansion and new manufacturing partnerships, global access of COVID-19 vaccines will become a reality in the months to come, in all countries,” he said.

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