DESSAU, Germany (Reuters) – In the German town of Dessau, one of the sites of the Bauhaus art school, an institute was set up in 1921 to mass-produce vaccines that later helped strengthen the German Democratic Republic. Exactly 100 years later, the site is gearing up to be a one-stop shop to produce COVID-19 vaccines for Germany’s pandemic response.
It’s just one example of a rash of efforts by governments across the globe to access fragmented vaccine production, after manufacturing setbacks deprived European Union members of drugs made on their own soil this year. From Australia to Thailand, states planning home-based vaccine plants are starting to reshape the industry.
The German venture has the backing of the regional government, as part of a national effort to secure supplies and add vaccines to Germany’s exports. Saxony-Anhalt premier Reiner Haseloff said he believes Germany could become a swing producer of vaccines, in the same way that power companies maintain capacity for times of strong demand.
“Ultimately, this is comparable to the energy industry, where the state also pays to keep power plants in reserve,” Haseloff told Reuters.
Unlike the United States, where the government’s Operation Warp Speed began funding the expansion and retrofit of pharmaceutical manufacturing sites early in the pandemic, few countries globally have the option to commandeer factories. The German plan is one of more than half a dozen by governments around the world to avert shortages by supporting drug companies’ local production.
Some – including Australia, Brazil, Japan and Thailand – are setting up manufacturing partnerships with Swedish drugmaker AstraZeneca PLC. Elsewhere, Italy has pledged state backing for a public-private vaccine production centre, while Austria, Denmark and Israel plan a joint research and development fund and will explore whether to produce their own next-generation vaccines.
India plays a significant role in vaccine production globally, and the United States, Japan and Australia also plan to help finance vaccine production capacity there, a senior U.S. administration official told Reuters.
The moves aim to address a global shortage of doses. With vaccines key to restart economies, some countries have pre-purchase agreements to secure their supply.
2 BILLION DOSES
The vaccine crunch in Europe has shown that states that depend on deliveries from multinationals can be vulnerable. In January, AstraZeneca cut supplies to the bloc by more than half for the first and second quarters, and told Brussels it was not able to divert Belgian-made drugs that were earmarked for the United Kingdom. The cut heightened tensions between London and Brussels and prompted European leaders to set curbs on exports of vaccines made in the EU – starting this month, when Italy blocked exports of AstraZeneca’s shot.
Germany is a net importer of all vaccines, with a $720 million trade deficit in this area. Berlin plans to change that, and Germany’s former “Bacterial Institute of the Anhalt Counties” in Dessau will help. Now a family-owned firm called IDT Biologika, it and AstraZeneca plan to invest more than 100 million euros ($120 million) to expand the plant into a factory for complete vaccines.
The company says it aims to make between 30 million and 40 million doses a month from the end of 2022, producing the bulk vaccine and also dispensing it into vials, which Chief Executive Juergen Betzing told Reuters would make it one of Europe’s biggest manufacturers and add capacity for at least 360 million doses a year from within the EU.
Germany has not yet reserved the right to purchase any of these vaccines, but the government wants to come up with a plan on measures to support and incentivise long-term vaccine production capacity by May 1, according to a document seen by Reuters. A government source said drug company representatives have told Berlin long-term purchase guarantees would be more important to their investment decisions than aid.
The IDT plant will also be able to produce vaccines for other companies and, together with a cluster of firms in Saxony-Anhalt, form the heart of a government strategy to make Germany a new…