Experts told Sky News that only one in 10 of the world’s population is likely to be protected from COVID-19 in the first year of a vaccine being available.
The analysis of global manufacturing capacity shows that only two billion doses can be made in 2021, even if the vaccine is given the green light by safety regulators at the start of the year.
But with seven of the typical nine vaccines in late clinical trials requiring two doses, this will likely be sufficient to immunize just over 12% of the 7.8 billion people who need them.
“We have to be clear that in the first place not everyone will have access to the vaccine. We don’t have the capacity to manufacture,” Dr. Clio Contoravide, assistant professor of chemical engineering at Imperial College London, told Sky News.
Calculations by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations show that even if manufacturing capacity doubled, as planned, over the next 12 months, less than half of the world’s population could be protected by the end of 2022.
This could mean that some restrictions on travel and social distancing will be needed for years to come, unless there is game-changing progress in vaccine technology that is speeding up production.
But making large quantities of the vaccine is just one of many hurdles to overcome in the coming months.
One of the biggest bottlenecks is traditionally in the “fill-and-finish” stage of production, when the vaccine is placed in glass vials, labeled and packaged.
It needs many supply chains to converge seamlessly, while the final product meets high quality standards. Any hiccup can cause delays.
Sky News has been granted access to the Wockhardt plant in Wrexham, where a high-speed production line was purchased by the government to produce a final vaccine over the next 18 months.
Preparations are underway to start production Oxford Vaccine Once November. Between two and three million vials, each containing eight doses, can be produced each month.
Ravi LeMay, managing director of Wockhardt in the UK, said the vials will be isolated until the vaccine is approved by safety regulators – but will have to be destroyed if they are rejected for any reason.
“This is a risk that one must take, given the enormity of this epidemic,” he said.
“This is an unprecedented step taken by the government in the interest of the United Kingdom to equip the vaccine so that it can be used immediately if it is approved by the regulators.
“It is a risk, but it is a calculated risk.”