Express Pharma

Merck’s endeavour has been to expedite the journey of the vaccine molecule with our technologies and expertise

As we continue to track COVID variants and rising monkeypox cases, Aditya Sharma, Head – Bioprocessing, Merck Life Science India, explains to Viveka Roychowdhury how Merck’s Collaboration Labs in India and APAC helped vaccine makers ramp up in record time to meet emergency immunisation drives and continue to support the sector with investments spanning traditional and novel modalities like mAbs, ADCs, HP-APIs, viral vectors and mRNA vaccines

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What were the choke points in the manufacturing process that vaccine makers in India had to overcome to scale up COVID-19 vaccine supplies?

India launched the largest vaccination drive at the start of 2021, with COVID at its peak. It was always going to be a difficult task, no matter how well-planned the campaign would have been. The logistics of dispensing vaccine to such a large population, at the earliest, keeping in mind the training of staff, with precautions at hand, was a herculean
challenge. The choke points were at various levels.

Supply of required raw materials was a major challenge for vaccine manufacturing operations. The expected turn-around time was much lower than the production schedule. As a social responsibility, we had preferentially prioritised supplies to COVID vaccine manufacturers.

Rising to the occasion, the regulators also expedited the pathway of Emergency Use Authorisation (EUA), communicating with a large population and prioritising vulnerable and high-risk segments of the population, supply and safe preservation of vaccine, availability and accessibility of vaccines, and then, faced by a sudden shortfall. Now in hindsight, it may all seem objective on paper, but at that time, these were edging on emergency levels.

Every country had its own set of unique challenges pertaining to the vaccination drives. Roll-out challenges such as timely development of national vaccination plans, getting timely approvals on the vaccines, storing and availability of vaccines, training of staff, research efficacy and orientation of the masses to accept vaccines were some of the primary choke points that India, along with many other nations, had to overcome.

What were the measures taken to make the COVID-19 vaccines affordable without compromising on quality and safety?

The vaccine manufacturers are well aware and best placed of the protocols to follow for the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines