Pfizer and BioNTech Raise Vaccine Production Bar to Two Billion Doses in 2021
Pfizer and BioNTech now anticipate manufacturing up to 2 billion doses of their highly effective COVID-19 vaccine by the end of the year as vaccination efforts ramp up and demand for shots increases around the globe.
During a presentation Monday, BioNTech CEO Uğur Şahin announced that the companies now believe they will be able to deliver approximately 2 billion doses by the end of 2021, enough to vaccinate 1 billion people. The target, a significant increase from their previous 1.3 billion-dose projection, could be realized due to expanded manufacturing capabilities and a label change that will enable an extra dose to be extracted from vials, Şahin said.
Six total doses can be taken from Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine vials when a “low dead-space” needle or syringe is used instead of the standard type. The new label change instructs users to use such syringes or needles, which leave less space between the needle and plunger when fully pushed in, in order to get a full six doses from each vial. With the label update, each vial can potentially vaccinate three patients in total.
The FDA’s Emergency Use Authorization for the vaccine already directs healthcare professionals to use low dead-space syringes or needles to get six doses out of each vial. And the European Medicines Agency’s advisory panel has recommended updating the vaccine’s product information to include the same instruction.
BioNTech added that a massive Novartis facility it acquired in Marburg, Germany, in September will soon be able to provide 750 million doses annually and should be up and running next month.
So far, more than 45 countries, including the U.S. and EU, have authorized or granted conditional approval for the highly effective vaccine, according to the BioNTech presentation, and a total 32.9 million doses have been shipped as of Jan. 10.
Concerns have been raised that current vaccines might not protect against two highly infectious variants of COVID-19 that have spread to other countries after first being seen in the UK and South Africa. But Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccine has proven so far to shield against a mutation seen in both strains (DID, Jan. 11), and Pfizer chief Albert Bourla has voiced confidence that the strains won’t bypass the immune system defense generated by the vaccine.
If a modification to the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine does end up being needed to adapt it for a deadly new strain, it should be possible in approximately six weeks, Sahin has said. — James Miessler