By Angela Fritz and — Edward in Colorado,
Describe what is going on with Pfizer and Moderna manufacturing. Are there insurmountable problems holding up the delivery of more vaccine doses?”
— Edward in Colorado
The vaccine rollout is plagued with more problems than just distribution. As Edward notes, there were holdups for Pfizer and Moderna on the manufacturing side, but they were not insurmountable — more like the kind of problems you face when you try to do something groundbreaking on a massive scale.
We reported on this a bit in December. The Trump administration had promised 300 million doses of vaccine by the end of that month, but they were forced to revise the estimate all the way down to 35 million to 40 million doses because of manufacturing delays. Operation Warp Speed had only 20 million doses on hand at the end of December (and just 12.4 million of those had been distributed to states when 2020 ended).
The big December slowdown was a product of a few things, the companies said. There were bottlenecks in the supply of raw vaccine ingredients. It was also a gigantic hurdle to rapidly increase the volume of production. During trials, vaccines were produced in 5-liter batches. That needed to be scaled up to 2,000-liter batches once the vaccines were approved.
We also heard from Paul Mango, deputy chief of staff for policy at Health and Human Services, that there were some “failed batches, in terms of not having the purity we sought.” He didn’t say which company experienced those failures.
Mango said they eventually nailed down the process, but started off behind schedule.
Pfizer and Moderna have increased their forecast for global production during the past two weeks, citing growing experience and efficiency of manufacturing. The United States should have 400 million doses, Post health reporter Carolyn Y. Johnson reported. That’s enough to guarantee that more than 70 percent of adults will be able to get the two-shot inoculation by the end of July.
Of course, companies still testing their vaccines could run into the same challenges that Pfizer and Moderna did.
Johnson & Johnson initially agreed to provide the U.S. government with 12 million doses of its vaccine, which is in the final phase of testing. That estimate was slashed on Jan. 13 by Moncef Slaoui, who will be stepping down as scientific adviser for Operation Warp Speed, when he said the company is on track to deliver a “single-digit million number of doses available in the second half of February.” Manufacturing delays also beset Novavax clinical trials.
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