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Shortage of Glass Vials Could Delay Rollout of COVID-19 Vaccine

By HospiMedica International staff writers
Posted on 29 Jun 2020
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Image: A transmission electron microscope image of SARS-CoV-2 (Photo courtesy of NIAID)
Image: A transmission electron microscope image of SARS-CoV-2 (Photo courtesy of NIAID)
Even as scientists around the world are racing against time race to develop a vaccine for the coronavirus, experts have warned that the distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine could be delayed by a global shortage of glass vials.

In a report by The Jerusalem Post, Dr. Rick Bright, who was fired as head of the US Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) earlier this year, has warned that it could take up to two years to produce enough vials to meet the vaccine needs of the US population alone. Currently, there are 100 potential vaccines under development and 11 candidates have progressed to human trials, with a vaccine expected to receive approval by September this year. Given the worsening spread of the pandemic, millions of doses will have to be manufactured in advance in order to provide maximum and early access to the vaccine globally.

However, in a whistleblower complaint, Dr. Bright discussed with officials "his growing alarm about the shortage of syringes, needles and vials necessary to administer vaccines if and when one became available," according to The Jerusalem Post. Bright had "raised concerns about a global shortage of glass vials that are required for vaccine production. According to major glass producers, all major pharmaceutical tubing suppliers are sold out of borosilicate tubing. It could take up to two years to produce enough vials for US vaccine needs, while some therapeutics will also require vials."

Similarly, Sir John Bell, Regius Professor of Medicine at the University of Oxford who is part of the Oxford Vaccine Group which has begun human trials of a vaccine, told listeners of BBC Radio 4's flagship 'Today' program: "There's only 200 million vials left in the world now because they've all been sucked up by various people who can anticipate a vaccine."

Vial manufacturing is a specialized process as the glass must be capable of withstanding extreme temperature and transportation conditions. As a result, there are only a few vial producers in the market. Additionally, the 'pack-and-fill' process of filling the vials with the vaccine is time consuming as each unit has to be manually checked for quality control, resulting in supply delays. Vial manufacturers are developing new methods to conserve glass, such as placing the vaccine inside larger vials which can hold up to 20 doses, thereby reducing the time-frame for pack-and-fill. For instance, Johnson & Johnson hopes to meet its ambitious target of supplying more than one billion vaccine doses globally by fitting five doses of a vaccine inside a single vial and save glass.

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