Wednesday, 1 December 2021

Glass vial makers prepare for COVID-19 vaccine

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FRANKFURT/PARIS: Drugmakers are warning of a potential shortage of vials to bottle future COVID-19 vaccines, but their rush to secure supplies risks making matters worse, some major medical equipment manufacturers warn.

Schott AG, the world’s largest maker of speciality glass for vaccine vials, says it has turned down requests to reserve output from major pharmaceutical firms because it does not want to commit resources before it is clear which vaccines will work.

“We have to keep the door open to give capacity to those who really are successful in the end. We don’t want to be portrayed in the press as the ones who were unable to package the best vaccine,” Chief Executive Frank Heinricht told Reuters.

With thousands dying from COVID-19 every day and attempts to contain the virus plunging the world into recession, drugmakers and healthcare groups including Pfizer, AstraZeneca and the GAVI vaccines alliance are pushing to mass produce vaccines even before they are shown to work in trials.

They want to be sure a successful jab can be rolled out as quickly as possible to billions of people across the world.

But that is creating worries about supplies.

AstraZeneca boss Pascal Soriot; the head of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Richard Hatchett; and the director general of global drugmakers’ lobby group IFPMA, Thomas Cueni, have all warned there may not be enough glass vials available for a global immunisation campaign.

Privately-held Schott, the biggest supplier of borosilicate glass for medical bottles and syringes, is confident vial makers can meet the challenge, but says it has had to make some very difficult business decisions to try to ensure that is the case.

Heinricht said Schott had turned down requests from major vaccine developers for future delivery of 800 million to 1 billion glass vials, which typically hold 5-10 doses, because the company believed it was too early to make such a commitment.

“That is the dilemma we are in,” Heinricht said, adding Schott’s cautious stance may have contributed to an industry view that vials, which drugmakers buy for less than 10 euro cents apiece, may become in short supply.

Schott has invested in glass and vial production over recent years because China is switching to higher-quality borosilicate containers, standing the company in good stead for the pandemic, and 200 million euros were earmarked for new production lines this year.

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