Germany Seeks Self Reliance in Vaccine Production

16.03.2021 - As one glitch after another at Covid vaccine suppliers upends deliveries, the German federal government is drawing up plans to build up production within its borders, federal health minister Jens Spahn said at a weekly news conference, thereby confirming remarks made by future vaccine commissioner Christoph Krupp in a pre-published newspaper interview.

Spahn said many domestic and international vaccine makers want to invest in Germany and that the government’s vaccine chief would work with them to examine how production can be expanded with state support. “We now have the chance to really strengthen Germany as a vaccine and pharmaceutical location for the next 20 years,” the minister said.

The German public, which has been discouraged not only by the delays but its government’s lack of a coherent vaccination strategy, will surely welcome the news. Spahn has come under fire not only for his indecision on whether to administer the AstraZeneca vaccine to people over 65  but also for the country’s subsequent turnaround on halting the shots after reports of blood clots surfaced. First vowing to continue, it did an about-face the next day.

By 2022, Krupp said, Germany should be able to produce enough of its own vaccines to inoculate the whole population in a pandemic and no longer depend on imports.  A task force to be established up to May 2021 is to develop a concept for a state-guaranteed network of companies capable of sharing the responsibility for individual stages of the production process from basic materials to finished vaccines and inoculation equipment.

The future commissioner also called on the EU as a whole to increase its vaccination production capacities. In a pandemic, member states should be in a position to produce a new agent for the entire European population within a quarter of a year, he said, estimating the need at around 500 million doses.

Both AstraZenenca and Johnson & Johnson have said they will have difficulty meeting their supply commitments to the EU. The latest status is that AstraZeneca will deliver only 30 million doses in the first quarter and 70 million in the second quarter. The US healthcare group, whose vaccine was just approved, has said it won’t be able to supply any doses before mid-to-late April.

Germany already has a major Covid vaccine manufacturer in BioNTech, which is producing and marketing its Comirnaty vaccine with US pharma Pfizer. It also has Tübingen-based biotech CureVac, whose vaccine is expected to hit the market by summer. Three major European drugmakers, including Bayer, Sanofi and Novartis, have agreed to help boost output. Paris-based Sanofi is converting its former insulin plant at Frankfurt, Germany, and Novartis is pinch-hitting for both mRNA vaccine makers.

Germany’s IDT Biologika (IDT), a CDMO specializing in vaccines, recently announced an agreement with AstraZeneca to make a proposed “tens of millions of doses” per months of the UK pharma’s viral vector product. IDT has now signed on to make the Johnson & Johnson shot, as Japanese drugmaker Takeda agreed to step back from its plans to have the CDMO produce its dengue fever vaccine, which still awaits regulatory approval, at its plant in Dessau, Germany.  The deal with J&J covers the next three months.

Another vaccine maker interested in setting up shop in Germany may not be welcomed with such open arms, at least politically. Russia’s sovereign wealth fund, which recently said it was looking for capacity to produce its Sputnik V vaccine in Europe, now claims to have found a producer in Germany as well as other countries. No names have been revealed.  Sputnik is in a rolling review with the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

Author: Dede Williams, Freelance Journalist