“The demand is going to far outstrip the supply,” Vijay Kumar, an Evercore analyst who focuses on the medical device and life sciences sectors, told CNN Business in an interview.
He said that Strategic National Stockpile has only 2% of the 650 million to 850 million needles and syringes needed and that officials aren’t addressing the global shortage of glass vials.
“It could take up to two years to produce enough vials for US vaccine needs, while some therapeutics will also require vials,” Bright said, according to the complaint.
Using the entire current inventory of vials for a Covid-19 vaccine isn’t reasonable because it would create supply woes for ongoing needs such as the annual flu and kids’ vaccinations, Evercore’s Kumar said.
The pharmaceutical industry started Covid-19 in a tight spot from a packaging perspective, as a medical glass shortage was just starting to even out, he said.
Medical glass isn’t made from your typical beach sand, and the vials aren’t your everyday soda-lime glass found in many household items.
“Glass shortage stems from sand shortage: There are [fewer than] 1,000 sand mines in the US,” Kumar and Evercore colleagues wrote in an April 26 research note. “Desert sand is too smooth to use for glass; most [quartz] sand comes from rivers, and mining it can have ecological and infrastructure consequences.”
Pharmaceutical firms are exploring and devising workarounds that include packing a few doses into larger vials versus single-dose vials. The move saves on bottles, but it drastically raises the chances of the vaccine going to waste, said Prashant Yadav, a healthcare supply chain expert and senior fellow at the Center for Global Development.
Multiple dose vials could also raise health risks if they’re used improperly, notably via reuse of needles, said Jay Walker, said chief executive officer and chairman of ApiJect Systems, which makes pre-filled syringes.
ApiJect, a public benefit corporation, has been one of the companies tapped in recent weeks to help address potential supply chain challenges — notably the vial shortage as well as the capacity constraints in filling and packaging the vials. The process is complex in nature, costly, and takes time to build because it requires precision and regulatory scrutiny to ensure quality and safety.
The product serves as an alternative to traditional glass vials for vaccine distribution.
The money will also go toward the retrofitting of existing manufacturing facilities with a goal of producing more than 500 million of the pre-filled syringes in 2021. By 2022, the goal is to have a production capacity of 330 million finished units per month, a US Health and Human Services spokesperson told CNN Business.
“We’re part of the answer, but we’re not the whole answer,” ApiJect’s Walker said.