BioNTech boss hopes to have boosted production plan by late January

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dpa/GNA – Ugur Sahin, co-founder and chief executive of German vaccine developer BioNTech, is hoping to have a plan in place by late January for increased production of its Covid-19 vaccine.

“We are trying to gain new cooperation partners to produce for us. But it’s not as if there were specialized unused factories lying around across the world that could produce vaccine of the required quality from one day to the next,” Sahin told the Spiegel news magazine.

“By late January, we will have clarity as to whether we can produce more, and how much,” he added.

The current situation regarding vaccine availability in the pandemic was looking “not rosy,” Sahin said, “because we are lacking other approved vaccines, and we have to fill this gap with our vaccine.”

BioNTech, based in Mainz, is working together with its US partner Pfizer to scale up its production.

The companies’ Covid-19 vaccine received EU regulatory approval shortly before Christmas, prompting the launch of a huge vaccination drive just days ago.

The European Commission has also pre-emptively ordered vaccines from other producers, for which regulatory approval is still outstanding.

“There was the assumption that many more companies would come with vaccines. Apparently there was the impression that we will get enough, it won’t be that bad, and we have it under control. This surprised me,” Sahin said.

Asked about the possibility of licensing out the Pfizer/BioNTech drug for production elsewhere, the scientist stressed the complexity of the mRNA technology on which the vaccine is based.

“You can’t just switch over, from producing vaccine instead of aspirin or cough syrup. The process requires years of expertise and the appropriate structural and technological equipment.”

Nonetheless, Sahin said the company was in advanced discussions on whether and how to provide more doses “from Europe, for Europe this year.”

He said that an agreement had been reached with the European Commission in recent days to supply an additional 100 million doses of vaccine, after countries expressed a need for more supplies. The increase was part of the original framework agreement, which foresaw 200 million doses with an option to buy a further 100 million doses.

Asked whether and how quickly even more doses could be produced, a company spokesperson would not say.

The European Commission also only mentioned “advanced talks” concerning further deliveries in 2021.

Germany’s Health Ministry expects to receive 2.68 million more doses of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine by early February.

The government is due to supply the next batch of doses to the country’s 16 states on January 8, according to a ministry tweet.

So far, four delivery dates are scheduled, enabling the country to deliver its target of 670,000 vaccines per week.

Germany may also start providing vaccines made by Moderna once it is approved, a step expected on Wednesday. In terms of logistics, the ministry would then coordinate with the European Union and the company on the next steps, the ministry said.

Further vaccines are likely to be approved in the first quarter of 2021.

There has been criticism in Germany that not enough doses of the vaccine are available.

So far, however, some 165,000 people have been vaccinated with the BioNTech jab, according to Germany’s disease control authority, the Robert Koch Institute.

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