With coronavirus still spreading globally, Pfizer Inc. is under pressure. and the other manufacturers of COVID-19 vaccines do more quickly.
Mike McDermott leads that effort at Pfizer, where he has been president of global procurement since 2019. He previously held other operations management positions in Pfizer’s 30-year career.
The COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech was the first to receive the green light, from Britain in early December, followed by the United States, Europe and other countries.
Pfizer makes the main component of the vaccine, a piece of genetic code called messenger RNA or mRNA for short. It uses other companies called contract manufacturers to make the vaccine’s protective shell and to fill, inspect and pack filters.
The Associated Press recently spoke to McDermott about addressing this production challenge. The conversation has been edited for clarity and summarizing.
Q: After developing your vaccine so quickly, how does Pfizer approach the need to make billions of doses in record time?
A: There is an urgent need to vaccinate more people quickly. We are expanding our ability to get more vaccines as soon as possible. We are making process improvements, adding more manufacturing lines within Pfizer and BioNTech facilities, expanding the use of contract manufacturers and adding more suppliers.
Q: What are these process improvements?
A: These include getting more productivity from our existing lines. We look to reduce waiting times as we switch between groups, doubling our batch size, increasing the yield per batch. We are reducing cycle times, from start-up manufacturing to shipping.
Q: What else are you doing inside your Kalamazoo, Michigan factory?
A: We went from one production line to four lines and from one production to three lines. We are expanding wherever possible. We have not taken a day off since October.
Q: With new variants of the virus appearing, can Pfizer update its vaccine quickly to block those versions?
A: Our mRNA platform technology is the perfect science for being able to make changes quickly. Of course there would be no changes to the manufacturing network. That genetically modified material would enter the system – and production of a new vaccine version would begin immediately.
Q: Pfizer recently exceeded the production forecast for this year from around 1.3 billion doses to around 2 billion. Are you sure you can do that?
A: Currently, we can deliver around 2 billion doses of the COVID-19 vaccine by the end of 2021. We are confident in this commitment, but of course we are always looking for ways to make more doses and spread earlier.
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