The promising news that not just one but two coronavirus vaccines were more than 90 percent effective in early results has buoyed hopes that an end to the pandemic is in sight.
But even if the vaccines are authorized soon by federal regulators — the companies developing them have said they expect to apply soon — only a sliver of the American public will be able to get one by the end of the year. The two companies, Pfizer and Moderna, have estimated they will have 45 million doses, or enough to vaccinate 22.5 million Americans, by January.
Industry analysts and company executives are optimistic that hundreds of millions of doses will be made by next spring. But the companies — backed with billions of dollars in federal money — will have to overcome hurdles they’ve encountered in the early days of making vaccines. Moderna’s and Pfizer’s vaccines use new technology that has never been approved for widespread use. They are ramping up into the millions for the first time. Other challenges include promptly securing raw vaccine ingredients and mastering the art of creating consistent, high-quality batches.
Operation Warp Speed — the federal effort to accelerate vaccine development — set as a goal producing 300 million doses this year, but fell far short of that, reflecting just how difficult and unpredictable the manufacturing process has been.
Pfizer said this summer that it expected to make 100 million doses by year’s end, but has now said it can produce only half that goal.
“Manufacturing a biological product is a science and an art in some ways,” said Prashant Yadav, who studies health care supply chains at the Center for Global Development in Washington.
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