Eight months after the launch of the first vaccination campaigns, four billion doses have been administered worldwide. While the countries of the North are stinging their citizens with a vengeance, the States of the South are still waiting for their cargo of vials to stem the Covid epidemic – 18. Fueled by the variant Delta , the health crisis has regained ground. Despite the situation, the number of doses that can be manufactured is limited due to a shortage of raw materials and equipment. To overcome this problem, a platform has been set up to help manufacturers and suppliers see what is available and allow them to trade in one place, reports British radio, the BBC. Among the commodities that have become rare: plastic bags.
What are we talking about ? These are large, sterile plastic bags that are used for culturing vaccine cells in gigantic vessels called bioreactors. These giant pockets – they can hold up to liters – are essential for the manufacture of vaccines. “These bags look a bit like the bags used in the home brewing process,” Matthew Downham, responsible for sustainable manufacturing for the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), told the BBC. Already last February, vaccine manufacturers sounded the alarm. Some have been forced to slow down production due to bag shortages, reports the Financial Times in an article dated 15 February 2021.
At that time, Stanley Erck, Managing Director of Novavax , called on companies not to accumulate bags, adding that it had been “really difficult” to get around the shortages. “We just had a minor breakthrough where we thought we were going to run out of bags at a particular facility. And we have just enough to get through February, March and April,” he argued at Financial Times . “Otherwise, would have closed. “Same speech on the side of the industry Moderna where plastic bags were also lacking, underlines the Swiss daily Time . A report industry in March also mentions a lack of filters, resins, disposable equipment and dry ice, for transport.
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Suppliers operate on a just-in-time basis This winter, pressure increased on the main distributors of giant plastic bags. Among the major suppliers: MilliporeSigma, a division of Merck, and Thermo Fisher. According to MilliporeSigma, there was “unprecedented demand” for Covid-related products – 18, and the company had worked tirelessly to expand the facilities, prioritize customers working on pandemic products and find additional raw material suppliers. “We have significantly expanded our production capabilities in Danvers, Massachusetts … For the worldwide distribution of this product used in the manufacture of vaccines,” the company said in Financial Times .
In France, the Merck plant also announced last March the investment of 19 millions additional euros on its Alsatian site to create vaccine bags: “These are very technical products. These are plastic bags, polyethylene that is placed inside a support in stainless steel “, explained Philippe Maurer, director of Merck Molsheim at the microphone of France 3 . The aim of the German giant is to provide 198 000 pockets per year. In order to set up this project, the German laboratory has declared that it will use new arms: Merck promises to create 341 jobs.
Plastic bags are not the only ones to be in short supply. As the BBC points out, plastic filters and pipes are also under great pressure. These plastic tubes are handled in biological processes, but can only be used once. Another source of concern is the lack of qualified personnel. Some production sites are struggling to find a sufficient number of workers to fill specialized positions. To stem this problem, the pharmaceutical industry is therefore considering a solution to facilitate the exchange of workers between different companies.
Far from pharmaceutical laboratories, wooden pallets, essential for the transport of goods, have seen their prices soar. While the price of a pallet was between 9 and 12 dollars in 2020, it exceeded 15 dollars in 2021, finds Bloomberg .