Pfizer expects to nearly cut in half the amount of time it takes to produce a batch of Covid-19 vaccine from 110 days to an average of 60 as it makes the process more efficient and other producers come on line, the company told USA Today.
As the US revs up its vaccination programmes, the production increase should help relieve bottlenecks caused by vaccine shortages.
“We call this Project Light Speed,” said Chaz Calitri, Pfizer’s vice-president for operations for sterile injectables. “Just in the last month we’ve doubled output.”
“The increased speed and capacity is not unexpected,” said Robert Van Exan, president of Immunisation Policy, a vaccine production consulting firm.
“Nobody’s ever produced mRNA vaccines at this scale, so the manufacturers are learning as they go,” he said. “I bet you every day they run into some vaccine challenge and every day they solve it.”
“We based our production system on how the vaccine was developed in the laboratory,” Calitri said. “Normally engineers would spend years improving efficiencies and cost-effectiveness. That’s not what happened with this one. We just went right to commercial production.”
As soon as vials of vaccine began coming off the production line, engineers started analysing how production could work faster and better.
The whole process is getting faster. Pfizer says making the DNA that starts the vaccine process first took 16 days; soon it will take nine or 10.
Though quality control and testing has accelerated, company officials say FDA regulations and best manufacturing practices are still being met.