A year since the first coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccine was administered, collaboration to share innovation has enabled manufacturing from zero to 11.2 billion doses this year.
The 2021 supply of COVID-19 vaccines resulted in half of the world’s population being vaccinated within a year. Independent analysis by global health intelligence and analytics firm Airfinity projects that by the end of March 2022, G7 and EU countries will have 1.4 billion surplus vaccines, enabling dose sharing.
As of Dec. 17, more than 100 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in the country, with 43 million Filipinos fully vaccinated, accounting for 56% of the government’s target, according to Acting Presidential Spokesman Karlo Alexei B. Nograles. About 60 million were first doses, while at least a million were booster shots, the Department of Health’s vaccination dashboard showed. The government aims to fully inoculate 54 million Filipinos by the end of 2021. Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario S. Vergeire revealed that the country now has an “oversupply” of COVID-19 vaccines, and urged Filipinos to get fully vaccinated, including booster shots.
“Vaccine manufacturers have delivered on their promise of innovation breakthroughs and have been ramping up manufacturing output to historic levels,” said Thomas B. Cueni, director general, International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations. “We’re ready to continue innovating in the light of new variants, and to persevere in our efforts to produce more doses, but we call for greater commitment and urgency to remove the barriers which prevent getting vaccine into people’s arms.”
The manufacturing scale up of COVID-19 vaccines developed in record time required building new production lines able to consistently produce millions of doses to the highest quality standards, and managing global supply chains for hundreds of components and ingredients. Also equally important are the more than 300 partnerships around the world to increase manufacturing output. Of these deals, 229 include various forms of voluntary collaboration that rely on technology transfer, sharing of know-how about the processes and the technologies used to make the vaccines, as well as training specialist personnel to ensure quality standards.
Dose-sharing is gaining momentum to reach those who have not yet been vaccinated. COVAX is ramping up fast to ensure doses are distributed equitably around the world. To date, more than 700 million doses have been shipped by COVAX to 144 countries, and nearly 1 billion doses ordered. Through the COVAX facility, as well as bilateral arrangements, the biopharmaceutical industry is calling for focus on reducing the time between arrival of vaccines and vaccinations.
Rapid and efficient delivery of COVID-19 vaccines require effective and flexible coordination and planning. Prioritization, funding, infrastructure and human resources must be sufficient to deliver vaccines safely. Attention must be given to upscaling cold chain capabilities from airfields to the last mile, and increasing health workforce numbers to deliver the vaccines even in remote areas.
The IFPMA explained that regulatory approval even before doses reach countries, requires the World Health Organization and national regulatory authorities to work together to ensure that the vaccines are approved at national level, so that doses can be deployed immediately. Addressing vaccine hesitancy also requires further work as there continues to be pockets of people that, after 18 months of safety data and over 8 billion doses administered around the planet, remain hesitant towards COVID-19 vaccines.
The year 2021 showed the industry’s ability to be agile and respond to new challenges through biopharmaceutical innovation. Innovation must continue if we were to address challenges in the coming year, including the emergence of any new variants. We are seeing a strong pipeline of innovation even as some companies have failed in their endeavors. An environment conducive to innovation, and not policies that discourage it, will allow the development of new generations of vaccines and treatments that provide longer lasting and stronger protection. These innovations could also be in forms that are easier to transport, store, and administer. The introduction and entry of such innovations in the country could help save lives, and provide some relief to the healthcare system.
Teodoro B. Padilla is the executive director of Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP), which represents the biopharmaceutical medicines and vaccines industry in the country. Its members are at the forefront of research and development efforts for COVID-19 and other diseases that affect Filipinos.