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The German company BioNTech explained on Friday that it plans to rapidly increase the production of its Covid-19 vaccine in Europe developed with its American partner Pfizer, in order to fill a “gap” in the absence of other approved vaccines.
The two laboratories confirmed Tuesday the delivery of 300 million doses of their vaccine to the European Union. The EU has exercised an option to purchase an additional 100 million for 2021, on top of the 200 million doses initially ordered in the contract signed in November.
The vaccination campaign started last weekend in the 27 countries of the EU which gave the green light to the Pfizer-#BioN#Tech vaccine at the end of December. Due to a lack of sufficient vaccine quantity at this stage, priority was given to people over 80 years of age and caregivers.
“The current situation is not rosy, there is a hole due to the lack of other approved vaccines and we have to fill this gap with our vaccine,” BioNTech co-director Ugur Sahin told the weekly.
BioNTech plans to run a new manufacturing unit in Marburg (Germany) in February, “much earlier than expected”, he said, specifying that it should provide 250 million additional doses during the first half of 2021.
German Minister of Health Jens Spahn had recently declared that the “objective is to start production around February or March” in this plant, acquired by BioNTech from the Swiss pharmacy giant Novartis. It will strengthen the Belgian plant in Puurs where the batches destined for the EU are produced.
BioNTech co-founder Ozlem Tureci, who is also the wife of Ugur Sahin, told Spiegel that the company has also signed contracts with five pharmaceutical manufacturers in Europe to increase production. Negotiations are continuing with other specialized companies, she added.
“By the end of January, we should have clarified what and how much more we can produce,” Sahin said.
Criticism is increasing, especially in Germany and France, on the slowness of the deployment of the vaccination campaign in Europe.
Part of the difficulty is the relatively low number of orders placed by the EU for its 27 member countries, with a contract signed only in November, later than other countries.
Countries like Great Britain, Canada and the United States have also approved, in addition to the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine, those of Moderna or Oxford / AstraZeneca.
According to Tureci, the EU estimated that there would be “a basket of various suppliers” to choose from given the international race to develop a vaccine.
“Such an approach makes sense. But at some point it became clear that many would not be able to make deliveries quickly,” she said.
BioNTech and Pfizer initially planned to deliver 1.3 billion doses worldwide this year, enough to protect 650 million people.
© 2021 AFP