If you look at the news, it feels as though every pharmaceutical firm and manufacturer in the world is involved in the efforts to produce Covid-19 vaccines and distribute them. Of course, this isn’t the case, but there are significant challenges for the manufacturers involved in the vaccine rollout.
Among them is how they can scale up production while remaining compliant with the strict quality control and product handling standards they are required to meet.
Writing for The Engineer recently, managing director of Beckhoff UK Stephen Hayes explained that the answer could lie in industrial automations.
He explained that manufacturers “do not have the luxury of trial and error when ramping up production of Covid-19 vaccinations”. However, he added that as manufacturers are currently working to increase production, it presents the perfect opportunity to introduce automation technology that can be signed off by regulators before it is brought into use.
“Where before plant managers may have been wary to stop production to introduce new technologies, because they had to wait for approval by the authorities, now is the time to re-examine operations,” Mr Hayes stated.
Among the innovations to consider is the introduction of machine vision (MV) technologies, which can be used to automatically highlight defects or any faulty products, he suggested.
Speaking to the Irish Sun recently, Bernard Mallee, director of communications at the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association, said that scaling up production to meet the significant demand for Covid-19 vaccinations around the world is not a simple task.
“Scaling production so that billions of vaccine doses are ready for the world is complex. It takes time,” he told the newspaper.
Mr Mallee also told the publication that he understands people’s frustrations with the pace at which vaccines are being produced, especially given the record time in which several vaccinations were developed and pushed through safety and quality testing.
He added that “manufacturing sites across the world are working around the clock”, with some organisations even choosing to share capacity in order to increase the supplies of the vaccine.
Earlier this month, health secretary Matt Hancock praised the manufacturers and developers of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine who have chosen to make it available at cost price, and stressed the importance of acting on a global scale to roll out the vaccine.
He noted that the UK government donated half a billion pounds to COVAX, the global scheme to bring the vaccine to countries all over the world, adding that both Ghana and Ivory Coast have been able to start their vaccination programmes in March as a result.
Mr Hancock also noted that, although the UK has licensed 100 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine for use with its population, billions more doses will be manufactured in the coming months and shared with countries all over the globe.
There will undoubtedly be an important role for pharmaceutical wholesale distributors as the Covid-19 vaccination programme stretches around the world.
The way in which pharmaceutical firms have approached the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as the significant levels of cooperation being seen between nations, highlights what can be achieved when countries work together on global issues.