IChemE experts celebrate successes in COVID-19 vaccine production

Published:  15 February, 2021

Following the extensive media coverage on the issues experienced with COVID-19 vaccine manufacture, experts from the Institution of Chemical Engineer’s (IChemE) COVID-19 Response Team are calling for a reality check to acknowledge what has been achieved in exceptional timescales.

The team upholds that developers of the COVID-19 vaccines, based across universities, contract development companies and major pharmaceutical companies, are to be congratulated in massively accelerating the programme of development and clinical trials. What normally takes 10-12 years has been carried out in less than 12 months in some cases.

These accomplishments have required the expert knowledge of chemical engineers, biochemical engineers and process engineers who are all critical in the development, scale-up and manufacture of the vaccines.

In response to the pandemic, volunteer members of IChemE and the International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering UK Affiliate (ISPE UK) set up a COVID-19 Response Team formed of mainly chemical engineers with significant experience in a range of pharmaceutical engineering areas including the industrial manufacture of vaccines. This experience has meant that the team members personally recognise the reality of the situation, and the extent of how much has been achieved with the vaccine rollout.

Given the quick progress that was necessary, the interdisciplinary teams involved in producing the vaccine have had to take many factors into consideration in limited timescales.

Dr Peter Dodd, member of the IChemE COVID-19 Response Team and ISPE UK COVID-19 response project manager, explains:

“A batch of vaccine product has something like ten thousand pieces of data that has gone into it. These are extremely complicated processes which require huge laboratory resources to test and refine. Vaccines, amongst all the biologics I’ve worked on, are the most sensitive processes and therefore to get the vaccine to this stage of roll-out in these timelines is truly remarkable.”

To enable production to reach the levels required, vaccines are being produced at different sites which inevitably have slightly different equipment and control systems, and may have different suppliers of the raw materials. Despite these obstacles, the volume of vaccines produced has been commendable.

Keith Plumb, member of the IChemE COVID-19 Response Team, said:

“Taking into consideration the media coverage on the problems with COVID-19 vaccine manufacture, undoubtedly all personnel involved have worked and are continuing to work very hard to overcome the problems in difficult circumstances. Political arguments and challenges to the supply contracts will not have made their job any easier and is only likely to negatively impact on the morale of those people we should be encouraging to do their best.

“The personnel involved in the production and manufacture of the COVID-19 vaccines are heroes behind the scenes and should be recognised alongside our NHS heroes in working around the clock to beat this virus.”

To contact the IChemE COVID-19 Response Team, please email covid@icheme.org.

For more information:

https://www.icheme.org/

https://twitter.com/IChemE

https://www.linkedin.com/company/icheme/

https://www.facebook.com/icheme1/

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