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Pfizer expects to cut COVID-19 vaccine production time by close to 50% as production ramps up, efficiencies increase – USA TODAY

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Elizabeth Weise
 
| USA TODAY

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Pfizer study says vaccine protects against variant

New research suggests the COVID-19 vaccine made by Pfizer and BioNTech can still work against a mutated coronavirus. Two easier-to-spread new variants of the virus have the world on edge. One was first discovered in Britain and South Africa. (Jan 8)

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Pfizer expects to nearly cut in half the amount of time it takes to produce a batch of COVID-19 vaccine from 110 days to an average of 60 as it makes the process more efficient and production is built out, the company told USA TODAY.

As the nation revs up its vaccination programs, the increase could help relieve bottlenecks caused by vaccine shortages.

“We call this ‘Project Light Speed,’ and it’s called that for a reason,” said Chaz Calitri, Pfizer’s vice president for operations for sterile injectables, who runs the company’s plant in Kalamazoo, Michigan. “Just in the last month we’ve doubled output.”

The increased speed and capacity is not unexpected, said Robert Van Exan, president of Immunization Policy and Knowledge Translation, a vaccine production consulting firm.

“Nobody’s ever produced mRNA vaccines at this scale, so you can bet your bottom dollar the manufacturers are learning as they go. I bet you every day they run into some vaccine challenge and every day they solve it, and that goes into their playbook,” he said.

From DNA to doses: The COVID-19 vaccine life cycles

Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine is made at threePfizer plants: starting in Chesterfield, Missouri, moving to Andover, Massachusetts, and finishing in Kalamazoo, Michigan. As of Saturday, about 20.6 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine had been administered nationwide.

Pfizer based its production system on how the vaccine was developed in the laboratory, Calitri said. Normally engineers would spend years improving efficiencies and cost-effectiveness. That’s not what happened with COVID-19.

“We just went right to commercial production,” Calitri said. 

As soon as vials of vaccine began coming off the production line, engineers started analyzing how production could work faster and better.

“We made a lot of really slick enhancements,” he said.

Production is getting faster. For example, making the DNA that starts the vaccine process first took 16 days; soon it will take nine or 10. Though quality control and testing has accelerated, company officials say FDA regulations and best manufacturing practices are still being met. 

Along with improving speed, Pfizer also is increasing output by adding manufacturing lines in all three plants. 

As the vaccine effort continues, more efficiencies are expected. 

“There are going to be profound shifts in the way we do business,” Calitri said of what he’s experienced since his boss first called him on March 20, 2020 and said the Kalamazoo plant would play a key role in the rapid production of the vaccine.

“We just demonstrated to ourselves that we can go from a phone call in March to having now delivered 50 to 60 million doses.”  

Contact Elizabeth Weise at eweise@usatoday.com

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Experts caution against the temptation to comparison shop COVID-19 vaccines – St. Albert Today

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TORONTO — While it’s tempting to compare various aspects of AstraZeneca-Oxford’s newly approved COVID-19 vaccine to others, several experts cautioned against focusing on data that is not comparable and the danger of underrating the product’s ability to curb hospitalizations and deaths.

Health Canada’s long-awaited announcement Friday that a third vaccine would soon be deployed came just as the provinces faced heightened scrutiny over regional immunization plans that vary by timeline, age eligibility and priority groups.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised the boost to Canada’s pandemic arsenal would mean “more people vaccinated, and sooner,” and would be key to helping contain spread.

Nevertheless, Health Canada chief medical advisor Dr. Supriya Sharma acknowledged questions over how the public should evaluate trial results that show AstraZeneca has an efficacy of 62 per cent in preventing symptomatic cases. That’s compared to the 95 per cent efficacy of the country’s two other approved vaccines, from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.

But Sharma stressed that all three have been shown to prevent 100 per cent of hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19.

“Each vaccine has unique characteristics and Health Canada’s review has confirmed that the benefits of the viral vector-based vaccine, as with the other authorized vaccines, outweigh their potential risks,” Sharma said.

Several medical experts including Dr. Stephen Hwang say Canadians do not have the luxury to pick-and-choose as long as COVID-19 cases continue to rage in several hot spots and strain health-care systems.

With multiple COVID-19 projections warning of a variant-fuelled third wave without tighter suppression measures, any tool that can slow the pandemic should be embraced, he argued.

“It would be important for people to be vaccinated with whichever vaccine is first available in their community to them, rather than trying to hold out for a specific vaccine,” advised Hwang, who treats COVID-19 patients at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.

Still, Toronto resident Maria Brum couldn’t help but question whether AstraZeneca was safe for her 79-year-old mother.

The vaccine was not tested on people over the age of 65. Health Canada, however, says real-world data from countries already using the product suggest it is safe and effective among older age groups, promising an update on efficacy in the age group as more data comes in.

“I personally would take that one out as an option for my mom,” said Brum, who is her mother’s main caregiver.

“Maybe I am wrong but, I don’t know, I don’t see that it’s more useful. I’d like to see one that has a higher percentage of (efficacy).”

As for herself, Brum said she has allergies that she believes may put her at greater risk of adverse reactions and so she is unsure whether she can take any vaccine.

But she’d like the option of choosing, if possible, even while acknowledging that limited supply could make that unlikely.

“As a Canadian, I would like to see us all have choices, regardless of age, gender, or ability,” says Brum.

“I’m going to wait where I can have more choices.”

Such hesitancy could pose public health challenges to Canada reaching the vaccination coverage needed to build protective immunity against COVID-19, said Hwang.

He noted that Germany has seen a reported preference among some for the vaccine made by Germany’s BioNTech with Pfizer, as well as a misconception that the AstraZeneca vaccine is inferior because of a lower efficacy rate.

Hwang says efficacy between vaccines cannot be compared because each involved completely different trials at different time periods, in different countries, with different volunteers of different age groups and varying trial design.

“Until we have direct comparison studies where we give people one vaccine versus another and directly compare, it’s very difficult to know for sure how it’s going to pan out,” he says.

Then there’s the fact Canada’s initial AstraZeneca doses will be made at the Serum Institute of India, which dubs its version CoviShield, while later packages will be produced at the drug giant’s own manufacturing facilities.

Hwang acknowledges that could invite further scrutiny but says the Pune, India-based biotech firm has a “strong track record of producing vaccines.”

Sharma also stressed the similarities between the two shots Friday.

“For all intents and purposes they’re the same vaccine,” said Sharma.

“There are some slight differences in terms of manufacturing and the places that they are manufactured are different. The analogy is a bit like the recipe – so the recipe for the vaccine is the same, but they’re manufactured in different kitchens.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 28, 2021.

Cassandra Szklarski, The Canadian Press

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A look at COVID-19 vaccinations in Canada on Friday, Feb. 26, 2021 – GuelphToday

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The latest numbers on COVID-19 vaccinations in Canada as of 10:30 p.m. ET on Friday, Feb. 26, 2021.

In Canada, the provinces are reporting 67,201 new vaccinations administered for a total of 1,774,599 doses given. The provinces have administered doses at a rate of 4,682.409 per 100,000.

There were 398,071 new vaccines delivered to the provinces and territories for a total of 2,441,670 doses delivered so far. The provinces and territories have used 72.68 per cent of their available vaccine supply.

Please note that Newfoundland, P.E.I., Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and the territories typically do not report on a daily basis.

Newfoundland is reporting 3,827 new vaccinations administered over the past seven days for a total of 20,285 doses given. The province has administered doses at a rate of 38.739 per 1,000. There were 7,020 new vaccines delivered to Newfoundland for a total of 33,820 doses delivered so far. The province has received enough of the vaccine to give 6.5 per cent of its population a single dose. The province has used 59.98 per cent of its available vaccine supply.

P.E.I. is reporting 1,485 new vaccinations administered over the past seven days for a total of 12,176 doses given. The province has administered doses at a rate of 76.758 per 1,000. There were 1,670 new vaccines delivered to P.E.I. for a total of 14,715 doses delivered so far. The province has received enough of the vaccine to give 9.3 per cent of its population a single dose. The province has used 82.75 per cent of its available vaccine supply.

Nova Scotia is reporting 6,987 new vaccinations administered over the past seven days for a total of 32,019 doses given. The province has administered doses at a rate of 32.81 per 1,000. There were 14,700 new vaccines delivered to Nova Scotia for a total of 61,980 doses delivered so far. The province has received enough of the vaccine to give 6.4 per cent of its population a single dose. The province has used 51.66 per cent of its available vaccine supply.

New Brunswick is reporting 5,135 new vaccinations administered over the past seven days for a total of 26,317 doses given. The province has administered doses at a rate of 33.738 per 1,000. There were 11,760 new vaccines delivered to New Brunswick for a total of 46,775 doses delivered so far. The province has received enough of the vaccine to give 6.0 per cent of its population a single dose. The province has used 56.26 per cent of its available vaccine supply.

Quebec is reporting 13,464 new vaccinations administered for a total of 400,540 doses given. The province has administered doses at a rate of 46.81 per 1,000. There were 28,500 new vaccines delivered to Quebec for a total of 537,825 doses delivered so far. The province has received enough of the vaccine to give 6.3 per cent of its population a single dose. The province has used 74.47 per cent of its available vaccine supply.

Ontario is reporting 21,805 new vaccinations administered for a total of 643,765 doses given. The province has administered doses at a rate of 43.826 per 1,000. There were 220,030 new vaccines delivered to Ontario for a total of 903,285 doses delivered so far. The province has received enough of the vaccine to give 6.1 per cent of its population a single dose. The province has used 71.27 per cent of its available vaccine supply.

Manitoba is reporting 2,409 new vaccinations administered for a total of 71,469 doses given. The province has administered doses at a rate of 51.902 per 1,000. There were 6,100 new vaccines delivered to Manitoba for a total of 108,460 doses delivered so far. The province has received enough of the vaccine to give 7.9 per cent of its population a single dose. The province has used 65.89 per cent of its available vaccine supply.

Saskatchewan is reporting 4,015 new vaccinations administered for a total of 69,451 doses given. The province has administered doses at a rate of 58.899 per 1,000. There were 15,210 new vaccines delivered to Saskatchewan for a total of 74,605 doses delivered so far. The province has received enough of the vaccine to give 6.3 per cent of its population a single dose. The province has used 93.09 per cent of its available vaccine supply.

Alberta is reporting 11,728 new vaccinations administered for a total of 207,300 doses given. The province has administered doses at a rate of 47.092 per 1,000. There were 69,090 new vaccines delivered to Alberta for a total of 274,965 doses delivered so far. The province has received enough of the vaccine to give 6.2 per cent of its population a single dose. The province has used 75.39 per cent of its available vaccine supply.

British Columbia is reporting 12,490 new vaccinations administered for a total of 252,373 doses given. The province has administered doses at a rate of 49.18 per 1,000. There were 15,491 new vaccines delivered to British Columbia for a total of 323,340 doses delivered so far. The province has received enough of the vaccine to give 6.3 per cent of its population a single dose. The province has used 78.05 per cent of its available vaccine supply.

Yukon is reporting zero new vaccinations administered for a total of 15,174 doses given. The territory has administered doses at a rate of 363.615 per 1,000. There were zero new vaccines delivered to Yukon for a total of 18,900 doses delivered so far. The territory has received enough of the vaccine to give 45 per cent of its population a single dose. The territory has used 80.29 per cent of its available vaccine supply.

The Northwest Territories are reporting zero new vaccinations administered for a total of 16,454 doses given. The territory has administered doses at a rate of 364.68 per 1,000. There were zero new vaccines delivered to the Northwest Territories for a total of 19,100 doses delivered so far. The territory has received enough of the vaccine to give 42 per cent of its population a single dose. The territory has used 86.15 per cent of its available vaccine supply.

Nunavut is reporting 19 new vaccinations administered for a total of 7,276 doses given. The territory has administered doses at a rate of 187.884 per 1,000. There were 8,500 new vaccines delivered to Nunavut for a total of 23,900 doses delivered so far. The territory has received enough of the vaccine to give 62 per cent of its population a single dose. The territory has used 30.44 per cent of its available vaccine supply.

*Notes on data: The figures are compiled by the COVID-19 Open Data Working Group based on the latest publicly available data and are subject to change. Note that some provinces report weekly, while others report same-day or figures from the previous day. Vaccine doses administered is not equivalent to the number of people inoculated as the approved vaccines require two doses per person. The vaccines are currently not being administered to children under 18 and those with certain health conditions. In some cases the number of doses administered may appear to exceed the number of doses distributed as some provinces have been drawing extra doses per vial.

This report was automatically generated by The Canadian Press Digital Data Desk and was first published Feb. 26, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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COVID-19: Doctors, caregivers push for in-home vaccinations for housebound seniors – BradfordToday

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TORONTO — At age 86, diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and prone to falls, John Bedborough would seem to be at the front of the line amid high-risk Canadians prioritized for a COVID-19 vaccine. 

But it’s those frailties that make it unlikely he’ll be able to visit a mass vaccination site, doctor’s office, pharmacy, or any other locale expected to administer doses when Ontario begins its community rollout mid-March, says his daughter, Diane Tamblyn.

The Peterborough, Ont. woman is among a chorus of seniors and caregivers who are pushing for in-home inoculations lest thousands of vulnerable Canadians be left behind. 

Some geriatricians are also dismissing the suggestion that unique storage and handling requirements prevent home-based deployment of the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, both often described as delicate and tricky to transport.

Tamblyn says she’s heard nothing about how thousands of housebound seniors like her dad will be protected, noting they are still exposed to possible infection through visiting caregivers and relatives, and highly susceptible to complications.

“If we don’t go to people that are very frail and elderly, how the heck do we expect them to get to these vaccination centres?” says Tamblyn.

“We send the vaccinations into the nursing homes and retirement homes. What would make somebody 85, living on their own that’s housebound (different)? Why wouldn’t we take it to them?”

Specific details about where and how Ontario will administer shots were absent when retired Gen. Rick Hillier outlined the rollout earlier this week, but he insisted the evolving plan would include a variety of venues and that seniors would mostly likely be vaccinated in their own neighbourhood.

Quebec Health Minister Christian Dube seemed to dismiss the prospect of in-home vaccinations outright when he detailed that province’s plans earlier this week, citing precise cold-storage and handling requirements.

But that doesn’t mean at-home inoculations can’t occur, counters Ottawa physician Dr. Alykhan Abdulla, who says thawed vaccines can survive six hours – plenty of time for a paper-route style delivery to housebound seniors in the same neighbourhood.

Abdulla says he’s already reached out to colleagues who are also confident door-to-door inoculation is possible.

“We don’t know when but I can tell you frankly, that it will happen,” says Abdulla, who’s identified about 36 of his own patients he plans to visit personally.

“I have a list of doctors in the province of Ontario, over 4,000 doctors that are willing to do this work, that are willing to drive to people’s homes. They’re willing to look after people wherever they are.”

Toronto geriatrician Nathan Stall of the Sinai Health System acknowledges provincial complaints that federal delivery schedules and restrictive vaccine handling protocols have hampered rollout plans.

Pfizer for instance, packages 195 vials — or 975 doses — in large trays, and requires them all to be transported together after they’re removed from -70 C freezers.

But Stall says Israel managed to vaccinate seniors in their homes by separating some shipments into smaller packages of 50 vials, and he doesn’t see why Canada can’t attempt to do the same. 

“What they did almost immediately was to package vaccine into pizza-sized boxes, so that they took smaller amounts and they went and vaccinated people who are frail older adults living in their homes,” says Stall, who sits on Ontario’s science advisory table. 

“The excuse about the federal supply or our handling does not hold.”

Montreal geriatrician Quoc Dinh Nguyen is open to the idea but raises several logistical hurdles, including the possibility of wasted doses if the delivery route, schedule or patient availability is derailed.

“Six hours is not a lot, and we do have to understand that it’s big packs of vaccines that we can’t just … take 10 (doses) and keep the 900 that are left for a month,” says Nguyen.

In the short term, he says it makes sense to focus on vaccinating the most people possible as quickly as possible, while working on a plan to reach at least 90 per cent of those aged 85 and older – the priority group Quebec invited this week.

“If this is the start of the vaccination period, I think it’s OK that you use mass vaccinations, that you take the low-hanging fruit that works,” he says.

Making sure no one falls through the cracks is a big concern to Dr. Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics at Toronto’s Sinai Health System and the University Health Network, who envisions a mix of family doctors, homecare nurses and paramedics administering doses to some patients at home.

“The problem with all of this is that these are the people we know about,” adds Sinha.

“I would say there’s an equal number of people out there who we probably don’t know about because they don’t actually have a primary care provider, or the families are actually providing all the care on their own, or they’re actually buying their care privately.”

Ontario’s vaccination playbook, which outlines public health guidance, includes a vague mention of on-site and mobile clinics to reach “populations that are too frail to attend a mass immunization clinic” such as long-term care residents, but doesn’t mention those who are homebound in the community.

Still, it’s very likely seniors who receive provincial homecare services would be in line for an in-home shot, suggests Sharon Goodwin of the Victorian Order of Nurses.

Goodwin, senior vice president of home and community care at the non-profit, says some public health units “are engaging home care in the process,” and notes homecare workers are also among those who will be vaccinated in the priority group.

Abdulla points to a variety of creative experiments underway in pockets around Ontario including a drive-through model in Collingwood, Ont., and a pilot program in Toronto that is administering vaccines to about 500 seniors and health care workers in three congregate-care buildings.

As for 94-year-old Toronto resident Nina Rockett, all she wanted for her birthday this week was a vaccine.

“I miss being close to people, you know, hugging people, spending time with them,” she says.

Her daughter Margot Rockett is especially eager for clear information about whether seniors facing barriers to leaving the home but willing to try – despite, for instance, hearing problems, vision loss, incontinence, dementia, or difficulty standing for long periods – will be accommodated.

She herself is uncertain whether to risk taking her mother to a clinic because of mobility problems. 

“Let’s just get out there and figure this out, and find all these people and connect with them.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 26, 2021.

Cassandra Szklarski, The Canadian Press

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