vaccine production

COVID-19 vaccine production, to June 30th, 2021

The days when output of COVID-19 vaccines was the main constraint on immunisation programmes are long gone. Monthly output has soared to more than 1.22 billion doses, of which almost 60% is being made by two Chinese firms, Sinovac and Sinopharm, whose combined output in June was itself 60% higher than in May. Factories in the European Union, producing the Pfizer/BioNTech, Oxford/AstraZeneca, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, also raised their monthly output by over 50%, to 214 million while India-based factories made a welcome recovery, nearly doubling to 120 million doses, chiefly of Oxford/AstraZeneca. The surprise has been the United States, where output has dropped puzzlingly from 105 million in May to just 39 million in June, though this may reflect stockpiling and some data recording issues.

The scale of the two Chinese firms' output places two issues at centre-stage from now on: real world evidence on the efficacy of the Sinovac and Sinopharm jabs, given the lack of peer-reviewed clinical trial data, which should come from countries such as Chile or Indonesia which have been major users of these jabs; and, on the other hand, the availability to COVAX and other buyers for poor and middle-income countries of both the Chinese and the western vaccines, given pre-orders and other options by advanced countries and efforts by many countries, notably India and China, to prioritise vaccinating their domestic populations. The vaccines are there, but getting hold of them is still not straightforward.

As monthly output has climbed, official forecasts or targets for 2021 have not always kept pace: officially, Sinovac is still targeting total 2021 output of 2 billion doses, but as it has already made 905.6 million, of which 390 million were just in the month of June, this is likely an under-estimate. Likewise Sinopharm is projecting 1 billion for the year and yet made 325 million last month alone. Moreover more vaccines are gaining approval in various jurisdictions. So although continued scaling up of monthly output of all vaccines will be needed if the total target of 15.354 billion doses is to be met, that is likely to happen. If the current monthly rate of 1.2 billion doses is merely maintained, the next six months would bring another 7.2 billion, making 2021 output 10.56 billion in all.

Photo by Louis Reed on Unsplash

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