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Corona: Much too little production capacity for mRNA vaccine


In order to defeat Corona, sufficient vaccine must be available worldwide. But production is still not keeping up with the coveted mRNA vaccines. The EU and the US could change that.

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Vaccination in Bonn

Photo: Rainer Unkel / imago images

Germany is swimming in the vaccine.

There are two reasons for this: on the one hand, the vaccinations are barely making progress, on the other hand, Biontech and Moderna have massively increased their deliveries.

At its peak, around 6.5 million doses a week were arriving in doctors' offices and vaccination centers.

As recently as April, many had shaken their heads when Olaf Scholz (SPD) spoke of millions of vaccine doses per week.

In the end he turned out to be right.

Gustav Oertzen

is a management consultant and lecturer for management, Leuphana University L√ľneburg.

Moritz Schularick

born 1975, is Professor of Macroeconomics and Director of the Macrofinance Lab at the University of Bonn.

But not only Scholz was right, but also all those who last year believed that a faster expansion of production capacities was possible.

The expansion of vaccine production went faster than expected.

But it is also true that more would have been possible with stronger financial incentives and government coordination.

Unfortunately, the fundamental problem is still not off the table.

Large parts of the world are facing the same problem that Germany faced at the beginning of the year: the vaccine is missing.

By the beginning of August, only around two percent of people in Africa were fully vaccinated.

And the active ingredient used often came from manufacturers who are not approved in Europe due to their lower effectiveness - such as Sinovac and Sinopharm from China.

Global manufacturing capacities remain too small to protect billions of people with the most effective vaccines.

In particular, there is a lack of mRNA vaccine.

Threat to the German economy

Of course, this is not only a problem for people in Africa, Latin America and Asia who are entering the next wave of pandemics unprotected. Many people will die an avoidable death. It's also a problem for us and our economy. Because the longer the rest of the world remains in the grip of the pandemic, the weaker the recovery of the German economy from the pandemic will be.

The more infections there are worldwide, the greater the likelihood that new mutations will arise for which the vaccination protection is insufficient.

That could then lead to a relapse again in this country.

Should a new variant require two vaccinations, with optimistic delivery capacities of six million doses per week, it would again take almost six months before sufficient substance could be delivered for 85 percent of the population in Germany.

So the problem is obvious - and it's big.

But anyone who thinks that this is why billions of euros are being invested in the expansion of production capacities for mRNA vaccines will be disappointed.

All attempts to massively expand vaccine production have so far been fought off by the vaccine manufacturers.

There is no doubt that companies like Biontech and Moderna have achieved extraordinary things in the last few months.

But it wasn't until the European Parliament and the US government under President Joe Biden joined the initiative of emerging and developing countries to release patents and transfer know-how that Biontech and Pfizer, for example, were able to deliver two billion cans within Promised 18 months at cost price.

That is good news.

However, the commitments are vague and delivery commitments by the end of 2022 are anything but ambitious.

more on the subject

  • Possible repeal of patent protection: The threatened boom of the German pharmaceutical pioneers by Claus Hecking, Michael Sauga, Thomas Schulz and Gerald Traufetter

  • Stagnating first vaccinations: Spahn's week of action was a flop

Based on the experience of the past few months, there is no question that capacities can be expanded.

Biontech has now published photos of its production facility in Marburg.

The production of the active ingredient for one billion doses per year takes place in a room the size of a living room.

The construction of this production facility took eight weeks, from mid-December 2020 to February 2021. A second, frequently mentioned obstacle to increasing production capacity - the supply of lipids - has now been resolved.

The companies Merck and Evonik built a new lipid production facility from the ground up in around eight weeks.

A piece of cake compared to getting a mask

We now also know what it all cost.

Biontech explained it precisely to its investors.

Around 200 million euros were enough to build a production facility for one billion cans a year in Marburg.

For comparison: the German state spent around seven billion euros last year on the procurement of masks alone - more than thirty times as much.

more on the subject

Corona vaccination monitor: So many people have already been vaccinated by Holger Dambeck and Marcel Pauly

Calculated down to a single dose, the cost of Biontech's production expansion in Marburg was just 20 cents.

Even if you generously assume that the suppliers incur four times the investment costs, you get just one euro per dose.

In other words: We could create the production capacity for billions of additional vaccine doses within a few weeks for comparatively small amounts and achieve a faster vaccination coverage of the world.

We just don't do it.

There is a solution to this problem: The EU and the USA should offer to pay one euro more for the 2.5 billion doses of vaccine they have ordered.

In return, Biontech and Pfizer would undertake to double production capacities within three months.

The current sales price to the EU is 19.50 euros per dose.

An additional euro would correspond to a price premium of a good five percent.

Ultimately, these are small sums of money to save human lives, protect ourselves from the risk of mutations and create the conditions for a sustainable economic recovery.

The key to a faster vaccination of the world lies in a massive expansion of the production capacities of Biontech and Co. Because even if the patents are released, it is unlikely that third-party companies will be able to build up capacities as quickly.

The existing vaccine manufacturers have no economic interest in significantly increasing their production capacities for mRNA vaccines. So far, you have blocked such attempts. However, we as a society have an existential interest in this. Therefore there is a clearly defined task for the state to assume the associated risks. Ultimately, the costs are low. Why do we hesitate?

Source: spiegel

All business articles on 2021-09-22

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