‘Pressure building’ on routine vaccine manufacturing, says WHO official

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A worker checks polio vaccine vials at a factory in Bandung, West Java, Indonesia. Photo by: Dadang Tri / Reuters

International agencies are closely monitoring the production of vaccines for other diseases, as the majority of these manufacturers are also involved in developing coronavirus vaccines.

“We absolutely don't want to be in a position where vaccines for other life-threatening diseases are compromised in terms of their supply, and we simply are replacing one outbreak with another outbreak,” said Kate O’Brien, director at World Health Organization’s department of immunization, vaccines, and biologicals, during a media roundtable on Thursday hosted by the U.N. Foundation.

There is “pressure building” on the manufacturing capacity for these vaccines, but O’Brien said, “it is not at a point where we are expecting that there will be vaccine shortages or vaccine stock outs at this point.”

Gian Gandhi, UNICEF’s COVAX supply coordinator, said some manufacturers of vaccines for routine immunizations have said they won’t be able to meet their awarded quantities for 2021 as they reallocate limited resources for COVID-19 vaccines. Some manufacturers experience longer lead times for the release of vaccine batches due to regulatory delays. There have also been supply constraints on syringes.

“I think that there's been less attention on the syringe market with the assumption that it's a less complex product, simple to produce,” Gandhi said.

“But in reality, the demands on that market, and the fact that the prices of those products are indeed quite low with low margins, we've seen that some of the manufacturers have struggled to scale up to meet the massive additional needs that COVID is bringing,” he added.

About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.