The companies have already agreed to deliver more than 1 billion doses in pacts with various countries, BioNTech said in a presentation at the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference on Monday. The European Union last week sealed a deal to double its supply of Pfizer–BioNTech shots to as many as 600 million, while the U.S. has locked in a total of 200 million doses.
Vaccine supply has been under scrutiny as faster-spreading virus variants emerge and the distribution effort in the U.S. faces strains. Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine is intended to be given in two doses 21 days apart. But some countries, including the UK., have elected to stretch out the time between shots in an effort to immunize more people as virus cases soar.
Previously, Pfizer and BioNTech had expected to produce 1.3 billion doses this year. While the companies plan to ramp up output with the help of contract manufacturers, the new target also takes into account a label change that allows doctors to extract six doses instead of five from each vaccine vial, BioNTech said.
Representatives for Pfizer didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
A new production site in Marburg, Germany, expected to become operational by the end of February, will be able to make as many as 750 million doses per year, according to the presentation. BioNTech said it’s also seeking to add suppliers and contract manufacturers and improve its production processes. Sahin expects that in years to come as the Covid-19 pandemic shifts to an endemic, where the disease persists, recipients of the Pfizer–BioNTech will likely need additional boosters.
The partners had shipped 32.9 million vaccine doses as of Jan. 10, BioNTech said. Some of the 50 million shots produced in 2020 remain in deep-freeze storage because countries weren’t yet ready to receive them, a BioNTech spokeswoman said. For example, 12.5 million doses of last year’s production capacity were reserved for the EU, but since the bloc’s approval of the vaccine came late in the year, not all were shipped.
The promise for a production boost comes as U.S. President-Elect Joe Biden’s team has said he’ll distribute more of the available vaccine doses once he takes office, rather than holding back half of existing supply to guarantee the second shots needed to reach maximum potency.
The move, backed by a group of Democratic governors, represents a gamble that there will be enough supply to ensure timely second shots. Some public-health officials have said that the change could lead to gaps in dosing, or for some people to miss their second doses entirely.
–With assistance from Reg Gale.