Pharmaceutical giants feel ‘responsibility’ to ensure everyone has vaccine

Pharmaceutical giants feel a “deep responsibility” to make sure no one gets left behind when it comes to accessing a coronavirus vaccine, an industry leader has said.

Companies such as AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Johnson and Johnson, and Pfizer are working with researchers across the world to ensure a vaccine can be manufactured at speed once one becomes available.

But questions have been raised about who will get access to the doses, and when.

Thomas Cueni, director general of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) said it was widely accepted that once a successful Covid-19 vaccine is created it will not be available in sufficient quantities from the beginning.

He added: “I think I sense a deep responsibility among the industry that we need to be careful about no one left behind.

“When we look at the scaling-up needs, we do know we will not have sufficient quantities, as from day one, even with the best of efforts.

“We need to be careful that vaccines need to be safe and effective, and they need to be scalable.”

He added: “The challenge is daunting – it’s just two days ago that I saw a chart which predicted we may need 15 billion dosages when you do a population-based study.”

Mr Cueni also said: “It is important that healthcare workers, irrespective of where they are, get vaccinated first and it is important that we do have this strong sense of solidarity.”

Dr Albert Bourla, chairman and chief executive of Pfizer, said it is also important to prepare for a potential second wave of coronavirus in the autumn.

He added: “To be frank, the challenges will be that every national government would like to get a vaccine for them.

“And I think, although there are discussions at WHO (the World Health Organisation) the reality is that governments will try to exercise all the leverage that they have to be among the first to receive vaccines and – us – I’m afraid we’ll be caught in the middle.”

He continued: “So I’m thinking very carefully what would be the best way to make sure that everybody will get the fair share of supplies that exist as quickly as possible.

“And that in this fairness, we will not forget the unprivileged countries that commercially play very little role, if any, but from the human perspective they all have equal rights.”

Speaking at an IFPMA media briefing about how more doses could be produced, Dr Bourla explained: “Typically we are producing vaccines in single dose vials.

“We are also exploring with governments right now, if it would be more convenient if there are five dose vials, or 10 dose vials.

“Because if we can find out that this could be a presentation that is acceptable and practical, given the pandemic nature, I think we can resolve a significant part of the bottleneck in manufacturing.”

GSK chief executive officer, Emma Walmsley, said it is widely recognised that there is a global need, and that multiple candidates need to be supported in order to get to scale as fast as possible, because the “best way to guarantee access is to have the volume available”.

At the briefing, AstraZeneca, GSK, Johnson and Johnson, and Pfizer said they would supply Covid-19 vaccines on a no-profit basis as long as the pandemic lasts.

Asked when he thought a vaccine may be available, Pascal Soriot, executive director and chief executive officer at AstraZeneca, which is working to manufacture the University of Oxford vaccine candidate, said “before the end of the year”.

He said: “Hopefully several before the end of this year, and the capacity will continue increasing next year – if those vaccines are successful – both in terms of manufacturing capacity but also additional vaccines coming available.”