3 key vaccine production challenges drugmakers are facing

Katie Adams - Print  | 

Pfizer and Moderna both recently said their COVID-19 vaccine candidates are 95 percent effective in preventing the disease. The news is encouraging, but the U.S. is still a long way from manufacturing enough doses to inoculate its residents on a mass scale.

Below are three main challenges drugmakers are experiencing in their efforts to ramp up COVID-19 vaccine production.

  1. Production goals drugmakers set in the summer now seem lofty. Pfizer initially said it would manufacture 100 million doses by the end of 2020, but now says it can only make about 50 million, according to a Nov. 17 New York Times report. Moderna is also struggling with production speed, as company Chairman Albert Baehny told CNBC Nov. 18. He said the company can only produce more than 500 million doses a year if it installs additional manufacturing lines, which will require additional investments.

  2. There's a strained supply of production materials. Drugmakers are falling behind on their production goals for their COVID-19 candidates because they need to wait for raw material and equipment shipments to come in. James Robinson, a member of the scientific advisory board for the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation, told the New York Times that vaccine production has become delayed due to a shortage of custom plastic bags used to line the stainless steel bioreactors in which vaccines are produced.

  3. Production on this scale requires a wealth of human expertise. Mr. Baehny told CNBC each manufacturing line for Moderna's vaccine needs 60-70 people who have been well trained. Identifying the people who are best fit for this job and training them takes time, he said.

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