We Must Improve Vaccine Manufacturing Before the Next Virus

It should worry everyone that experts surveyed by TIME regarded increasing funding in a post-COVID-19 world for vaccine development and scaling up manufacturing capacity as feasible—but improving equitable vaccine distribution was not. The good news is that all these elements are possible and are starting to work today. To stop the next pandemic in its tracks, we need to ensure that people worldwide are protected quickly, and that will entail having all these pieces in place.

On vaccine R&D, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) was set up to identify and invest in R&D for vaccines against emerging infectious diseases with epidemic potential. So, when it came to COVID-19, with CEPIs and other R&D support and industry engagement, the scientific and vaccine manufacturing community rallied, producing the first safe and effective vaccine in record time—just 327 days. Today we have not just one but 15 in widespread use.

Increased investment now could get us there even faster the next time, particularly given the potential of the relatively new RNA vaccine technologies that have proved so effective with COVID-19. These plug-and-play vaccine technologies make it possible to identify and develop antigens rapidly. Much of the regulatory testing and approval can be done in advance, even before we know what the threat is.

As for manufacturing, it may be difficult to discern when there are severe supply shortages immediately, but the world has rapidly built up manufacturing capacity during COVID-19. Waiving intellectual property has been discussed as a potential solution for boosting production. But the growth we have seen in the past year has been achieved through technology transfers, where both the intellectual property and the vital know-how needed to make vaccines are shared between manufacturers.


However, we need to do more. Given the massive number of doses required during a pandemic, export bans of vaccines, essential components, and supply bottlenecks have led to a vaccine divide. More than a third of adults in high-income countries have been vaccinated, while less than 1% of those in low-income countries have had their first jab.

To prevent this kind of scenario from happening the next time around and ensure that those most at risk are prioritized, we lack not distribution channels but global manufacturing capacity. We already have highly effective distribution channels through COVAX and its partners. We already have access to doses enough to protect 1.8 billion people in lower-income economies by early next year, enough to protect almost 30% of people in these countries. But we can get there sooner through investments now to increase global manufacturing capacity, particularly in emerging economies, and support of technology transfers the next time a pandemic strikes.

The Coronavirus Brief. Everything you need to know about the global spread of COVID-19

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Tyson Houlding
I’m a lifestyle blogger with a passion for writing, photography, and exploring new places. I started this blog when I was 18 years old to share what I was learning about the world with family and friends. I’ve since grown into a freelance writer, blogger, and photographer with a growing audience. I hope you find inspiration and motivation while reading through my work!