- Pfizer expects to roughly double the number of coronavirus vaccine doses it makes per week for use in the U.S, CEO Albert Bourla said Friday at an event with President Joe Biden held at the company’s plant in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
- The boost in production should take effect in the next “couple weeks,” Bourla said, noting the drugmaker currently manufactures about 5 million doses each week. Pfizer has supplied approximately 40 million doses to the U.S. government through February 17, some 29 million of which have been administered since the vaccine’s emergency authorization last December.
- Pfizer’s stepped-up manufacturing is a result of improvements the company’s made in reducing by half the time it takes to make and do quality checks on each vaccine lot. The pharma is also expanding its production network, tapping a site in Kansas to aid in the fill and finish of vaccine vials.
Pfizer has agreed to deliver 300 million doses to the U.S. by the end of July, 120 million of which it expects to supply over the next five and a half weeks. The manufacturing improvements and expansion detailed by Bourla Friday should help the company meet those commitments after a slower-than-expected start last year.
Until now, Pfizer’s manufacturing in the U.S. has largely taken place at three sites: a factory near St. Louis, Missouri, that produces the DNA plasmids used as templates for its vaccine; a site in Andover, Massachusetts, that uses those templates to construct the messenger RNA contained within the shot; and a plant in Kalamazoo, Michigan, that stuffs the genetic material inside a “lipid nanoparticle” and then fills the vaccine into vials.
Pfizer is adding a new vaccine formulation suite in Kalamazoo, and will add a plant in Groton, Connecticut, to the task of manufacturing the lipids which protect the vaccine mRNA from being degraded in the bloodstream once injected.
The company’s sprawling McPherson, Kansas, site, which has come under scrutiny from regulators in the past over compliance failings, will join the Kalamazoo plant in putting the vaccine in vials.
Pfizer has also worked to increase the yield of its production processes, and make its testing more efficient for clearing newly made vaccine batches, Bourla said.
“All of these efforts have allowed us to reduce our timelines from approximately 110 days from start to vial ready and we are now approaching an average of 60 days,” the CEO added.
Bourla also cited actions by the Biden administration to prioritize Pfizer’s orders for new equipment using the Defense Production Act.
While the Biden White House has upped the U.S. vaccine orders and worked to accelerate deliveries, much of the groundwork for mass production of vials came under the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed program.
In remarks at Pfizer’s plant on Friday, Biden described his goal of 100 million doses administered in the first 100 days of his presidency as a “floor,” noting that the U.S. is now averaging about 1.7 million shots per day.
So far, Pfizer has provided about half of the doses administered in the U.S. through Feb. 18, with the other half coming from Moderna, which makes the other vaccine authorized in the U.S.
Moderna has also agreed to supply 300 million doses to the U.S. by the end of July.
One hurdle in distributing Pfizer’s and Moderna’s vaccines has been the extremely cold temperatures required for shipping and storing doses. On Friday, Pfizer and partner BioNTech asked for FDA approval to ease the temperature requirements for storage of its doses, citing new testing data.