Serum Institute of India (SII) chief executive Adar Poonawalla has stirred a serious debate on how the US decision to curb raw material export could put global vaccine efforts in jeopardy. In a World Bank panel discussion on Wednesday, Adar said the sharing of critical raw materials is going to be a critical and limiting factor in global vaccination efforts.
But why did the US block exports of the critical material? The vaccine supply chain and raw material issues have posed global challenges, with companies struggling to keep up with the ever-increasing demand for vaccines.
In November last year, US pharma major Pfizer Inc cut short its Covid-19 production target by half, citing raw material crunch. The company had earlier planned to roll out over 1.2 billion doses of coronavirus vaccines in 2021 and 100 million doses by 2020-end. Both these targets were later reduced to half due to raw material shortage in the US and Europe.
Vaccines typically contain antiviral agents, antiseptic liquids, sterile water and some elements of virus DNA that are important to create antibodies.
Under normal circumstances, the manufacturing process is smooth as companies first get final approval, following which it buys raw material and sets up supply chains.
However, given the unprecedented Covid-19 crisis, governments are facing challenges in vaccinating their people.
Biden has promised to administer 100 million vaccination shots in his first 100 days in office. The government aims to buy 600 million vaccines for its 300 million population, which has put stress on the American raw material companies given the demand from all across the world. It recently decided to buy an additional 100 million doses of each of the two - Pfizer and Moderna. This has increased the total vaccine order for the US by 50 per cent, from 400 million to 600 million.
To accelerate vaccine production for the US population, President Joe Biden invoked the Defense Production Act and curbed the export of raw material.
The Biden administration granted emergency approval to Johnson & Johnson's vaccine last month. After Pfizer and Moderna, J&J will also help achieve the vaccine production target by adding 100 million vaccines by summer. However, as the company is behind on manufacturing and would not be able to fulfill its promise to deliver 100 million doses by June, the Biden administration -- by invoking the Defense Production Act -- brokered a partnership between J&J and its arch-rival pharma company Merck & Co to safely manufacture the J&J vaccine. This rare partnership is expected to bolster the vaccine manufacturing capabilities of the US. Under the new arrangement, Johnson & Johnson's vaccine manufacturing facilities will now begin to operate 24/7. Using two Merk facilities, J&J will fulfill production and packaging needs.
"We'll continue to use the Defense Production Act to expedite critical materials in vaccine production, such as equipment, machinery, and supplies," Biden has said.
Biden also directed his COVID-19 Response Coordinator to work with the Health and Human Services Department to increase the total vaccine supply for Americans.