How Does Vaccine Production Scale Up? Addressing The Biggest Challenges

As more and more progress is made in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, people have finally started to look to the future for a glimmer of hope, making plans to meet up with loved ones, travel, or simply get back to business. However, for these dreams to become a reality, it’s crucially important that COVID-19 vaccine production increases to meet the demand of a global community that has been ravaged by the pandemic for almost a year and a half now. 

While demand for the vaccine is estimated to reach almost 9.5 billion doses in 2021, current production estimates suggest only around half the vaccines necessary — or around 5 billion doses — will be produced under current production and market conditions. In order for vaccine production to scale up, a series of crucial hurdles need to be overcome. Here are five of the biggest challenges that need to be solved before the end of the pandemic.

Vaccine ProductionIncrease Manufacturing Capacity

The most critical part of increasing vaccine production is obviously creating more manufacturing capability in the form of factories and development plants around the world. Major producers of COVID-19 vaccines, such as Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson and Johnson, have already pledged to build more production plants around the world in the coming months, and are taking steps to improve efficiency at current manufacturers. 

Another barrier to increasing manufacturing capacity is the existence of proprietary patents on all existing vaccine formulas. While patents ensure that vaccines produced meet the safety standards of the companies that developed them, they also limit the ability of countries and companies that have not successfully researched an effective COVID-19 vaccine to contribute to the global productive effort to meet existing demand. 

In the end, even without patents and other legal hurdles to increasing vaccine production capacity, increasing manufacturing capability in order to produce more vaccines will inevitably take time and money — an ongoing and persistent problem in the world’s fight against the pandemic.

Deal With Supply-Chain Concerns

Even if global manufacturing capacity were increased, however, that would only produce more problems in the supply of vaccines unless other production barriers are addressed. COVID-19 vaccines are incredibly complex to make, and require materials from 280 different inputs, according to a speaker at the Global C19 Supply Chain and Manufacturing Summit, held in March 2021. 

Not only would these ingredients and materials also need to ramp up production to maintain greater demand for them as COVID-19 vaccine production scaled up, but the production rate demanded from COVID-19 vaccines may also threaten the production of other vaccines. This could, unfortunately, also include those for life-threatening illnesses, such as polio and tetanus. Industries that supply materials to COVID-19 vaccine producers would also need to spend the time and money to increase their own production capacity in order to meet that demand.

Bolster International Co-Operation

Another significant challenge to scaling up COVID-19 vaccine production is the current hostile geopolitical situation under which production is occurring. Vaccine production is inherently an international effort. No one country produces all the materials necessary to produce vaccines, or even the capability to produce all the various components. 

However, due to the unprecedented crisis that COVID-19 presents to national security and development, many countries have resorted to legislation designed to prohibit the export of vital components necessary for vaccine production in order to guarantee sufficient supply at home first. Examples of this include the American Defense Production Act, which grants the President of the United States the power to prohibit by executive order the export of any resource deemed necessary for national security by the United States government. 

These policies have created problems for worldwide vaccination production, most recently seen in India where the Defense Production Act prevented sufficient vaccine production in India to address the growing pandemic crisis in the country. Sore relations between global powers such as the U.S, China, and Russia further complicate the supply and export of vital vaccine components. For vaccine production to scale up sufficiently, greater international cooperation and understanding are absolutely critical to success.

Decrease in Regulation

While government healthcare regulations play a vital role in ensuring the quality and safety of healthcare products, cumbersome bureaucratic tape is slowing down vaccine production around the world. This has led to lengthy and unnecessary delays, causing further complications in regions that have been hit especially hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and are currently in dire need of aid.

Many countries have already moved to reduce the burden of regulation on vaccine production by streamlining the approval and licensing process of developed vaccines, but regulatory tariffs and bureaucratic red lines continue to hurt the efficient production of vaccines using existing resources. By eliminating unnecessary regulations, the production process can operate more efficiently, allowing for greater vaccine production.

Optimize Use of Existing Resources

One of the most realistic solutions to a barrier to vaccine production upscaling is solving the current inefficiencies in production procedures. By using software to mix optimization and efficiency, existing resources can be better utilized to allow for increased production of vaccines without having to wait for more factories or for global governments to sit down and work together. Chemical process simulation and other software optimizations can be used to increase efficiency in production.

Scaling up vaccine production is one of the most important and significant endeavors in finally overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic. Although many barriers to upscaling production can seem enormous and almost impossible to solve, many people around the world are working towards increasing vaccine production and finally returning the world to normal. And by doing so, we can ultimately work toward our common goal of eradicating this virus once and for all.