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Moderna more than doubling Covid vaccine production to three billion jabs next year

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 4/29/2021 Nicholas Cecil

Hopes of vaccinating the world got a shot in the arm on Thursday as Moderna said it expects to more than double vaccine doses to up to three billion next year.

Crucially, they are also expected to be able to be kept at fridge temperature for up to three months which could significantly boost efforts to innoculate countries in Africa and other less developed parts of the globe.

The pharmaceutical giant also said it is increasing its expectations for vaccine production this year to between 800 million and one billion shots, raising the bottom of its range from 700 million.

The final number of inoculations will depend on how many are lower-dose formulations for boosters and immunisations for children.

Moderna shots currently deploy 100 micrograms of vaccine substance but some future shots may use only 50 micrograms.

“As we look forward to next year, we just see so much need for primary vaccine, we are hearing it all over the world, and also boosters,” Moderna President Stephen Hoge said in an interview.

“So depending upon... how much the ordering that happens is third doses or pediatric doses at 50 micrograms, we could see up to 3 billion doses,” he added.

Moderna had previously said it expected to make 1.4 billion shots in 2022.

The vaccine firm also said new data suggests its shots can be stored safely for up to three months at refrigerator temperatures, making it easier to get them to hard to reach areas that may not have access to freezers. “

“That might be a breakthrough that really matters in 2022 in Africa and across lower and middle income countries,” added Mr Hoge.

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair believes the world could get vaccinated even more quickly, within eight months, and is urging leaders of the G7 group of wealthy nations (US, UK, Japan, France, Germany, Italy and Canada) to make this an aim at the upcoming summit in Cornwall in June.

As rich countries speed up their vaccine roll-outs, other parts of the world are facing sharp upticks in cases and struggling to acquire needed shots.

a group of people riding on the back of a truck: A patient waits in an ambulance outside a hospital, amid a shortage of oxygen and beds, in Jaipur, RajasthanNurPhoto/PA Images © Provided by Evening Standard A patient waits in an ambulance outside a hospital, amid a shortage of oxygen and beds, in Jaipur, RajasthanNurPhoto/PA Images

India has recorded more than 300,000 cases each day and more than 2,000 deaths in the past week.

Fewer than 10 per cent of its more than 1.3 billion citizens have received one dose and only around 20 million are fully inoculated against the virus.

Moderna expects to double output at a drug substance plant in Switzerland run by Lonza Group AG and boost production in a Spain-based facility owned by Laboratorios Farmaceuticos ROVI SA more than two-fold. U.S. plants will also raise output by more than 50 per cent.

Britain has ordered 17 million doses of the two-dose vaccine, which was approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency in January, and the first doses were administered at the start of this month.

Moderna’s two-dose vaccine uses messenger-RNA technology that programs cells to build immunity to the novel coronavirus.

The US drugmaker said it would begin making investments this year and that production boosts would start in late 2021 and carry into early 2022.

Moderna said it is in advanced talks for additional deals with other manufacturers to help make its shots.

The company would need regulatory sign-off to start shipping vaccine at the higher, refrigerator-level temperatures.

So far, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca have been the only major global drugmakers with authorized Covid-19 shots that can be stored without a freezer.

Both companies have faced production problems and reports of very rare severe side effects that have slowed uptake of their vaccines in some countries, including in mainland Europe.

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