Germany’s BioNTech racing to boost Covid-19 vaccine production to fill gap

The German company BioNTech said on Friday that it was competing to increase production of its Covid-19 jab in Europe, to fill the “gap” after the lack of other approved vaccines.

The vaccine, developed by BioNTech and its US partner Pfizer, was the first to be approved in the European Union at the end of December.

Countries including the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States previously approved the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine and have since also received green light stops from the US company Moderna or Oxford / AstraZeneca, leaving the EU inoculation drive behind.

“The current situation is not rosy, there is a hole because there are no other approved vaccines and we have to fill this gap with our vaccine,” BioNTech founder Ugur Sahin told Der Spiegel every week.

Criticism of the slow pace of Europe’s vaccine expansion has intensified in recent days.

In Germany, where the focus has been on inoculating the elderly in nursing homes, chief physicians have complained that hospital staff leave waiting for their jabs despite being in priority groups.

‘Basket with suppliers’

France has seen similar complaints and urged the government to announce that health workers over the age of 50 can get the shot from Monday – earlier than planned.

Part of the problem is that the EU placed a relatively low order of 300 million doses for its 27 member states, and the contract was not signed until November later than other countries.

Colleague BioNTech founder Ozlem Tureci, who is also Sahin’s wife, told Spiegel that the EU had assumed that there would be a “basket of different suppliers” to choose from, given the global race to develop a pandemic closing jab.

“Such an approach makes sense. But at some point it became clear that many could not deliver quickly.”

Sahin said BioNTech was aiming to launch a new manufacturing facility in the German city of Marburg in February, “far earlier than planned”, which could then remove another 250 million doses in the first half of 2021.

Tureci said they had also entered into agreements with five pharmaceutical manufacturers in Europe to increase production, and negotiations with other specialized companies are ongoing.

“By the end of January, we should have clarity on what and how much more we can produce,” Sahin said.

BioNTech and Pfizer initially aimed to deliver 1.3 billion doses worldwide this year, enough to immunize 650 million people.

(AFP)